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Only Jody Knows
By Craig B. Ewald
AuthorHouse LLCCopyright © 2014 Craig B. Ewald
All rights reserved.
I could hear excited shouts from the grandstand, sounds of people watching the rodeo as the afternoon sun cut through the mountains onto the brightly colored tents of the fair. We had been here since early morning, and now I was tired and thinking of my comfortable slippers inside my back door at home. I had been showing some of my cattle and was pleased that I had won a few ribbons. But now, my good clothes were beginning to irritate me, and I wanted out of them. Everyone dressed up in their Sunday best for the Sheridan Wyoming County Fair.
I waited for my wife, Martha, to finish discussing the cooking awards with several ladies she had met, prowling around only a few feet away to let her know that I was ready to go. I waved to a couple of friends I knew over by the beer stand. One was Dr. Robert Heidbreder, a dentist; the other was Caleb McMillan, an auctioneer. Both were from Sheridan. They acknowledged my wave but did not approach me. The last thing I wanted to do right now was strike up a conversation. As Martha would say, I was "in one of my moods," tossing my thoughts around as I waited. In the distance, the Bighorn Mountains stood in shadow, blue-black against the reddening sky. As I looked beyond the tents and awnings to the far-reaching expanse of the yellowing Wyoming countryside, a barker from a nearby sideshow was shouting to a small group of interested people. Eventually his words filtered into my thoughts.
"He predicted President Roosevelt's victory for a second term," he was calling out. "And he predicts that he will go on to win an unprecedented third term three years from now. With his amazing powers he can see into the future and explore the mysteries of the past. Come in and challenge the spectacular Martin Darden with your questions. Ask him about your future, or question him about the past. His answers will amaze and astonish you. If you think this is a hoax, he will return your money. So let the amazing Mr. Darden answer your questions. Hurry, hurry, hurry; the show begins in a few minutes."
Tired as I was, I listened. Somehow, with the words, the smoke from the carnival torches, the bright colors of the tents, and my mood, I was taken back to another September day, another place—a memory forgotten many years past. I looked into the distance and saw not the rolling Wyoming countryside but the South Dakota plains of my childhood: golden fields of corn and wheat, cattle grazing for miles under the warm September sun, and trees beginning to show the colors of the coming of fall.
And I remembered a question about the past.
Martha came up beside me. "Ready to leave, dear?"
"Let's go in and see this fellow Darden," I said, straight out.
"But, Ralph, you don't believe in such things. And I don't want any of our friends to think that we believe in this nonsense."
I grabbed Martha's arm and headed for the tent as if I hadn't heard a word she had spoken.
I bought two tickets, and we went in. It was a small tent, with uneven rows of chairs facing a raised platform. There were about twenty people sitting there, waiting. Waiting for what, I wasn't sure. We found two chairs near the front, joining the others in the warm interior. My hands were sweating, and I felt quite nervous, even a little excited. Soon the barker came out; he was Darden's assistant, and he handed us small envelopes and cards to write our questions on.
"What are you doing?" Martha asked, an amazed look on her face.
"Sh!" I hushed her and wrote my question. The barker took the envelopes, checking each one to see if it was sealed, and put them in a black hat that he placed on the table. The barker then announced Darden, who immediately came out.
I was disappointed by his appearance. He was under medium height, dumpy, and his clothes seemed too big for him. He was bald, and what little hair he had was brown. A big cigar protruded from the right corner of his mouth. In his right hand, he carried a red handkerchief to wipe the gathering perspiration from his forehead. This guy didn't look as if he could predict yesterday's weather.
The crowd politely applauded his entrance and waited; the air was electric. Darden began by telling what prophecies he had made that had come true, and he mentioned some predictions for the future. He stated that some fellow in Germany named Hitler would be making trouble for all of us. It was plain foolishness. I was sure I had wasted my money.
Taking the top hat, Darden picked out one envelope. He opened it and read the question. It wasn't mine. Somebody wanted to know about a brother overseas. Darden closed his eyes and in a low voice answered the question. I paid little attention to the response. I could only think of my own question, wondering if he would pull it—and, more importantly, if he could answer it.
He worked his way through the envelopes, opening some, holding others to his perspiring forehead. People were murmuring; some nodded their heads in approval.
A lady behind me said, "That's wonderful, but how could he know that? Only I knew that."
I waited, hoping each envelope would be mine. Had the envelope gotten stuck in the lining of the hat where it would not be felt by his searching fingers?
Darden held yet another envelope to his forehead and closed his eyes.
"This question is about a young woman. It asks if I believe her to be alive, and if so, where is she now? If she is dead, how and when did she die? Her initials are S. W."
I was amazed. That was my question, and he knew my question without unsealing the envelope. He opened his eyes and stood motionless for a moment. He said nothing. I had known he couldn't do it.
"Before I proceed to answer this question, I must have the correct initials of the woman. The initials given to me are not correct. Will the person who wrote this question please give me the correct initials?"
I was astonished! How could he know? I hesitated; I didn't want to make an ass of myself, yet the desire to know was killing me.
"J. B.," I blurted out, not caring what the others thought.
Darden looked straight at me, a strange look on his face.
"This is a very interesting question," he said, closing his eyes and tipping his head back. He winced and made several strange faces and weird noises in this position. Pausing for a long moment, he began speaking as if to himself.
"I see a dark night. There are six burning torches spread far across the rolling countryside. I see something tied to a piece of barbed wire. There is something in it, but I can't make out what it is. Things are not clear, and I am having difficulty making it all out. I see a boy standing on a bluff overlooking ..."CHAPTER 2
"Come on, Ralphie. Why are you always the last one ready whenever we're going someplace?"
I hated to go to dances anyway. Since I was the youngest in the family, Mom and Dad wouldn't let me stay at home all by myself, even though I was eleven years old.
"I'm coming," I yelled from the upstairs window. I went back to the mirror and finished combing my hair. I grabbed the sweater I had received last Christmas from my sisters. It would probably be quite cool on our trip home, even though it was the middle of September and the days had been warm.
I went down the narrow stairway in three big bounds and proceeded through the sitting room to the kitchen and the back door. I grabbed an apple from the bowl on the huge kitchen table Father had made last summer.
"Come on, Ralphie," yelled my oldest sister Elsie, a look of impatience on her face. "Let's get going. I don't want us to be the last ones there."
I shoved the back door open so hard that it made the door bang into the wall of the house. I ran across the porch and jumped to the ground and ran over to the wagon.
"You slam that door one more time like that, Ralphie, and you will get a switching you won't soon forget."
"Gee whiz, Ma. You wanted me to hurry too, didn't ya?"
My older brothers Eddie and Art grabbed me by the arms and hauled me up over the side into the wagon.
"Okay, Bob. Let's get going," called my father to the people in the other wagon.
We were headed down to the Smith ranch. The Bucklin family had arrived a few minutes earlier. We were all going down there together. The Bucklin's had the ranch to the east of us, and they had stopped to join up with us.
"Father, can I ride with Jamie?"
"No, you can't, boy. You stay right where you are. I'm not going to have you boys roughhousing in the wagon and getting dirty before we even get there."
I knew better than to argue. Father's word was law as far as we children were concerned. But I did want to play with Jamie, who was my best friend. He was a year younger than I was, and he had red hair and freckles. He was always getting teased about those freckles. He was a thin boy, and I beat him almost every time we wrestled, which was often.
I wanted to ride with Jamie because I knew that we would have to go to bed about an hour or so after we arrived. That's the way it always was at the dances. The younger kids were put to bed in the house so that the older kids and the adults could attend the dance. Jamie and I couldn't even sleep in the same room because we would never get to sleep. We would wrestle or have pillow fights with the other children our age. I knew we would be arriving between eight and eight thirty, which would mean that Jamie and I would only have about one hour to mess around.
It would take us an hour or so to get to the Smith ranch. It wasn't that far, but the last two miles or so were hilly, and the horses went slower. My parents talked about who was expected to attend. My older sisters Elsie and Lydia were wondering what boys would be there to dance with. Eddie and Artie were hoping it would still be light so that they could play some ball before the dance started. They were old enough that they did not have to go to bed and could dance if they wanted to. My two younger sisters Minnie and Lottie were hoping that there would be time to play a game of "pump, pump, pull-away." It was a game that all of the younger children liked to play—especially us boys, because we could run faster than the girls and would usually win.
We were approaching the last big hill before we got to the Smith ranch. I always got a little excited, because from the top I could see the Missouri River and the trees that lined it, which were nearly three miles away. From that hill on, there were rolling hills and valleys all the way to the river. I had only been to the river on two occasions, and both times it was to get trees from which we would build barns and sheds. I always felt a strange excitement when I saw the big river. There were rattlesnakes there too.
From the top of the hill we could also see the Smith ranch. It sat in the first distant valley to the right of the road. You could look down on the house, the barns, and the sheds. There were lots of trees surrounding the house. A row of Russian olive bushes lined each side of the barnyard for forty yards. It was only a mile or so more until we were there.
As it turned out, we had left a little late, and as we headed down the hill we could barely make out the river in the distance as we were looking into the evening sun. The fluffy clouds that had been white twenty minutes earlier were now bright reddish-orange. I could see the lights of the Smith house peering at us out of the dark valley like holes in a pumpkin face. A broad beam of light spilled out of the twin barn doors sixty yards behind the house. That was where the dance would be held.
As we moved down the lane toward the barn, I heard Mother and Father recognizing the wagons and horses already there. We pulled off the lane between the house and the barn, and Father tied the team up to one of the trees. We children all piled out of the wagon and ran to the barn to see who else was there.
"Come on Jamie, I'll race you to the barn."
"Now you stay in bed, Ralph. I don't want you and Jamie playing around. It is going to be late when we get home tonight, and I don't want you causing a fuss."
"Aw, Mom, can't we stay up a little longer tonight? We always gotta go to bed early. Why can't we play some more?"
"It is almost ten o'clock, and that is past your bedtime. I don't want to hear any more of it."
With that, Mother closed the door to the sitting room. There I was with five other boys, all of them younger than I was. My mom figured I was old enough to watch after them but not old enough to stay up later. Jamie was in the bedroom across the hall from me. He was with three younger boys and two older girls about thirteen or fourteen. The girls were to watch after Jamie, me, and the others.
Mother had ruined all of our fun when she separated me and Jamie. There was nothing else to do but turn down the kerosene lamp and go to sleep. I took off my sweater and rolled it into a ball for a pillow. I pulled the suspenders from my shoulders and let them fall to my side. I took the quilt Mother had brought for me and spread it out on the floor. Placing the sweater at one end, I laid down on the blanket not too far from the door. I pulled half the blanket over me and reached over my head to put out the kerosene lamp sitting on the chair. The room was now pitch dark. I closed my eyes and settled back. I could hear the fiddle music coming through the window from the barn not very far away.
"Ralphie, wake up. Come on, Ralphie! Wake up." I felt a jab in the middle of my back. I rolled over, and there was Jamie on all fours, hovering over me.
"Come on, Ralphie, but be quiet."
"What's the matter?" I questioned.
"Let's sneak out to the barn and see what's happening. Tonight there is supposed to be a special occasion from what my dad said the other day. I want to see what it is."
"Don't you have any ideas? I don't want to get caught. We would get switched for sure."
"No, but I want to find out what it is. Are you coming or not?"
I sat up and pulled my suspenders up over my shoulders. I pulled on my shoes and laced them quickly, one ending up in a knot. I grabbed my sweater and put it on. Following Jamie, I got on my hands and knees and crawled the few feet to the door and into the hall.
Jamie turned and shut the door as soon as I passed through. We both stood up. The hallway was dark except for the light that was coming from the kitchen. We moved slowly and quietly down the hall to the kitchen. Several boards squeaked and groaned beneath our feet as they reluctantly accepted our weight upon them.
When we got to the kitchen door, Jamie peeked in. It was empty. A single kerosene lamp sat on the table in the middle of the kitchen. We quickly proceeded across the room to the back door. Jamie peeked through the doorway to see if anyone was on the back porch.
Sixty yards beyond the porch was the barn. A beam of light pierced the darkness from one of the big doors that had been left ajar. We could hear the fiddles and clapping quite clearly now.
"Come on, Ralphie; I can't see anyone."
We opened the screen door and slipped through.
"Let's sneak around to the side so we won't be seen. We can use the wagons and trees as cover."
We jumped off the porch and ran to our left to a big cottonwood tree that sat thirty feet from the back porch. The tree hid Jamie and me easily it was so big. From there, we moved farther to our left toward another tree that had a team of horses tied up to it. It was easy to hide behind the wagons; no one had seen us yet.
It was nearly a straight line ahead to the west side of the barn. There were several trees with wagon teams hitched to them that we were able to use for cover as we proceeded to the barn. It was quite dark, and the moon had not risen yet. This aided us in our journey. As we approached the last wagon, a door on the west side of the barn swung open. We dived under the wagon.
Two people stepped out into the darkness. It was hard to see who it was in the dark, but we could tell that one was a man and the other a woman. We could not make out their faces since the light had not fallen on them. They talked in hushed voices. We could not make out what they were saying. They stood there for several moments facing each other. They finally stopped talking. The man moved quickly to the woman and placed his arms around her. In the darkness we could see two figures blend into one they kissed. It lasted only a few moments. They separated very quickly and opened the door. The light filled the doorway exposing the two people about to reenter the barn.
Excerpted from Only Jody Knows by Craig B. Ewald. Copyright © 2014 Craig B. Ewald. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse LLC.
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