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Mary Catherine MacLaren was already in love with the celluloid images of America and its Wild West when John David (Cappy) Sterling asked her to marry him. She also loved her birthright in Scotland and the old family cattle farm, Haddington Moor. After ten generations of MacLaren tradition, it was almost impossible to leave the old place, but he loved his family's… See more details below
Mary Catherine MacLaren was already in love with the celluloid images of America and its Wild West when John David (Cappy) Sterling asked her to marry him. She also loved her birthright in Scotland and the old family cattle farm, Haddington Moor. After ten generations of MacLaren tradition, it was almost impossible to leave the old place, but he loved his family's sprawling Texas ranch equally and her passion for the land was not as strong as the passion for her cowboy. So, she gave in. Love and war can do that to a person, calling them away thousands of miles. Still, what ultimately convinced her to leave were the two promises Cappy swore to keep.
Thus, she left the green of Scotland in 1945 and reared her family in the parched landscape of West Texas, living out her childhood fantasies, yet always yearning for her homeland. Now, fifty-one years later, she is terminally ill and Cappy has not fulfilled his second promise. . . .
(Excerpt from Chapter One)
The road north from San Angelo traveled straight and true. It had been driven countless times before. What normally prompted the excursions included both the weekly grocery shopping at the only H-E-B for two hundred miles and the impulse purchases at the local quick-mart located halfway between the ranch and the small metropolis. On this particular day, however, there was a third item on the agenda. As she gripped the steering wheel of the old jalopy, her hands trembled. A follow-up visit to the doctor preempted today's routine and the news was not good. . . .
"Mary Catherine, pleaseplease have a seat," her doctor pleaded while gesturing to a chromed armchair in the examining room.
"No," she replied straight-out. Whatever he needed to say she would endure standing. She was born a MacLaren and the MacLaren clan always took news flat on their feet and looking fate square in the eye. Life, she reminded him, was nothing more than a day at most, all sprung from night and all in the hands of the Maker. How bad could the test results possibly be? Even so, her body shivered as damp air from the swamp cooler wetted her frail shoulders. Why do doctors keep their offices so frightfully cold? she wondered, forgetting for an instant the reason for the follow-up.
The doctor struggled with his own set of feelings. For a few seconds he studied the floor and fretted with the stethoscope dangling about his neck. Thoughts of how best to break the news made for a long awkward silence. Before him stood a familiar face washed by years of sun and wind and dust; it was a face tested by weeks of worry and months of illness that somehow seemed unfazed by the dire circumstances. In a way, he expected as much.
He had always been astonished by her ability to defy nature and rise above life's insurmountable odds. Even in the summers as a teen, in the late 1960's when he worked her ranch, he discovered she possessed a steadfast conviction more seasoned ranchers never attained. It was as though she had achieved a Zen-like understanding of why God planted her on this sweet earth. Being at peace, she always wore a resolute countenance.
Moreover, he shared a common history with her family.
He grew up with her two sons. He birthed the grandsons and set the leg twice on her cowboy. Unfortunately, he knew her all too well and nothing could have ever prepared him for this. Today the odds got stacked cruelly against her and there would be no defying God. He looked away and swallowed hard. Then he sat in the chrome armchair and gathered her hands in his.
"Mary Catherine, I'm afraid the biopsy turned out positive again. Everything indicates the disease has spread far beyond any conventional treatments we can give you here in San Angelo."
"How long do I have?" she asked. Avoiding the doctor's face, she turned slightly to gaze out the window and watch a cardinal basking in the sunlight on a sycamore limb.
"Maybe a few months. The pills will help"
"No. No pills, Billy. Thank you very much, but no pills.
What little time I have left, I want to be coherent. I want to enjoy my family. I want dignity in death."
The doctor stood to embrace her and brush back a tear smudging the makeup on her cheek but she refused his gesture. Once again, her strength moved him.
"Well, Billy, I guessI guess I best be goin' home.
Cappy and the boys will be expecting their supper on time.
Today is the end of the roundup. If it's to be the last time I get to watch my cowboys bring home the cattle, I want to be there."
"Have you told Cappy about the cancer?" the doctor asked.
"No, but I will. I will when the time is right."
. . .With those words still fresh on her mind, the sixtymile drive home along Highway 87 meant even more to her that April afternoon. In spite of fifty-one years of living in a land akin to an arid savannah, she had never grown tired of the scenery. Today, the countryside rejoiced in springtime revelry just for her. The prickly pears danced in full bloom, carpeting the horizon with yellow blossoms in a frenzied display. Their temperamental petals would only last a few days but in their brief lifespan reign supreme over the parched plateau flats. The other wildflowers, particularly the bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes, also cast a special brilliance. Adorning the road's broad shoulders, they would endure longer than their succulent cousins and inherit the sunshine for weeks to follow.
David Martin Anderson is an award winning author who resides in Texas. He lives on a small ranch north of San Antonio in the Texas Hill Country. Other literary works include" 'The Last Good Horse,' 'Four-Bagger,' 'John From,' ' Harry's Apology.'
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