I watched as the rope was placed around his neck; the pain felt as the slapped the horse’s backside, the sound of the snap as Billy hung lifeless made my heart break. You see, I loved him, it didn’t matter what he had done'”I just loved him. Now, here I stand, watching without saying one word; they have killed my Billy and I will be a lone woman except for the life that lives strong in my belly.
We were not married because he knew that if I shared his name my life would be nothing but looking over my shoulders. I’m pregnant and that in and of itself is trouble. They are taking his body away and I do not dare claim it'”I’ll just watch from our oak tree and cry in silence.
It’s an awful sight, watching an entire town revel over his death; bars healthy with music and drink, dancing girls shaking their bustles, and gunfire blazing Main Street, and me — I’m sitting alone in my room above the bar, wondering what to do and where to go. Billy left me a comfortable woman, with means to support myself and my little one, but it’s money I dare not toss out here, I must get a ticket on the next stagecoach and quite frankly, anywhere but here is good. Laying here, snuggling with Billy’s shirt, and taking in every familiar smell; my little one moves'” Life does go on.
As I lug my bags and trunk down the stairs, a sweet kindly man, tips his hat, and yells for service; two young boys take my things to the stop. That man had the cutest twinkle in his deep green eyes, it made me giddy and my face went flush and crimson. We shared the ride from Texas to Utah, he was just so polite and kind; he prayed often too, but I didn’t mind, I just liked the calmness in his voice.
“What brings you to Utah?” The man asked.
“I'”well — nothing, just moments I suppose.” I replied, stuttering the entire time “My husband was recently killed, and I need a place to raise my baby.” I said as I softly rubbed my belly. It was a tiny white lie, I know, but I was sure, in this situation, God would not care.
“And you, sir, why are you heading to Utah?” I asked rather shyly.
His head fell and dropped into his praying hands.
My wife also passed away while giving birth to our fifth child. I was away on a mission, to England. Now I’m returning home to take care of my family.”
My heart went out to this man, alone with several children'”men do not do well alone, I thought.
Funny, all the talking we did and I’m not sure he even knows my name?
I put my hand in his. “My name is Melody Perkins, so sorry about your wife.” I said gently.
“And I’m sorry about your husband.” He said with a reassuring smile. “Utah is still pretty rugged, but my brother has built a fine home for me and my little ones.” He looked as if he had finished his sentence and then “Do you have family there Melody?”
“No sir, no I do not — I just wanted someplace far away from Texas.”
“So sorry, ma’am I haven’t formally introduced myself either; Jacob'”Jacob Dearing.” He laughed, a sweet kind gentle laugh, it made my heart feel light.
I did not feel the need to tell him my entire story, about my Billy and how he died. I can’t close my eyes without seeing him on that horse with the rope securely around his neck and him just hanging there'”I miss him so much! I know he did some bad things, but to me, he was loving and gentle.
“Melody, promise me you’ll raise that baby right, keep him out of trouble, take him to church every Sunday'”Promise me!” Those were the last words he said, as they placed him on that horse.
“Melody Do you know much about the people in Utah?” asked Jacob. We are called Mormons. We have traveled along time to get to this place'”there has been much death and loss but our brethren remain faithful.” Jacob placed a book in my hands and asked me to read it if I wanted. Mormons are really the Latter-day Saints, from the Church of Jesus Christ. This book is another testament of our Savior.
All I could think about was Billy’s request, and perhaps this was a way to honor him. I took the book and read it. The trip took days to get there, I was weary, gritty, and in need of the longest bath ever!
We finally rolled into the Salt Lake Valley; Now to find a place to call home. Jacob helped me down, he took my bags and set them on the dirt road. His beautiful golden-haired children met him at the stage; they wrapped their arms tightly around their dad and clung to him like honey on a biscuit. A few women were there as well; they stopped short and noticed me, swollen belly and swollen feet. It was odd, none of them looked standoffish; quite the opposite, they took my hand and grabbed some young men to help with my things. I was stunned really! What are they doing with my things?
Jacob had spoke to one as he was taking my luggage off'”but what in the world did he say?
“Good evening, my name is Sister Hansen; we have a place with an extra bed for you.” My daughter, Susan, will draw you a bath, and get you something nourishing to eat.” The young men took my bags and placed them on the cart; Jacob helped me into the seat and patted my hand.
“The women will see to your needs, I’ll come and check on you in a few days don’t worry Melody, everything will work out.”
I went with these women and indeed they were kinder than any I have ever met; I wondered how they would be if they knew I was never married?”
After a few hours we reached a quaint home, there was a barn with chickens, cows, horses, and rabbits. Children ran around playing games, jumping rope — a rope. My heart was taken to that day when Billy died. Tears fell hard, my face turned flush and I just started sobbing. That sweet young woman, Susan, ran to my side, she just held me as if I was family. I needed that, to be loved unconditionally. How is it that complete strangers can offer so much love to sinner like me?
They took me into the house, Sister Hansen hung a blanket up for privacy; I didn’t know what to think, they don’t know me or anything about me and yet — they have opened their home and hearts. Susan hauled the big metal tub into my room, she poured hot steaming water and filled it half-way then she placed rosemary and lilac and cool water.
I took off my sticky dress and peeled of my under garments, and slid into that delightful water. There was a fresh cloth and a nice bar of soap sitting on a stand next to the tub; I felt so undeserving of such care, but my body was so tired to fight it. I sunk in, deeper and deeper, I allowed the scented water to wash over my aching muscles and cleanse my spirit. This, after that long hot dusty trip was like heaven.
I was awoken by the wonderful aroma of fresh hot bread, stew on the stove, and voices rushing to set the table; the clanging of dishes and sweet children laughing made my heart soar. I climbed out of the tub, dried off and quickly put fresh garments and my working dress. I felt like I needed to get in there and earn my keep.
I rushed into the dining area, rolled up my sleeves and attempted to help; the young men sat me down at the table.
“Today you are our guest, you need this time to relax from your travels, so sit and make yourself comfortable.”
Sister Hansen, asked Ephraim to say the prayer over the food. Everyone bowed their heads and he spoke.
“Dear Kind Heavenly Father, we thank thee for our many blessings, we thank thee for the food we are about to partake in, we pray that it nourishes our bodies so we can continue they work, please help our newest sister, with her struggles and grief, and help her to remain strong and healthy, These things we pray, in your Holy name, amen.
Dear, they prayed for me? I was overwhelmed with love and warmth. The dishes were passed around; I took a slight plate of food, not wanting to seem greedy. Sister Hansen smiled and took my plate and added to it.
“You are not just feeding yourself child, but a sweet baby; The Lord always provides, so eat.”
I did too! I could not believe how famished I actually was, fresh hot bread, wonderful sweet churned butter, venison stew, which melted as soon as it hit my tongue, and the best glass of milk I have ever drank. I was indeed blessed.
I insisted on doing dishes, so myself and a little angel, Sarah, bellied up to the basin and scrubbed them clean. Somehow, I felt that this was all meant to be; the family I never had, and a strong love that was unwavering.
After supper, we sat under the glow of oil lamps and read scriptures from the Book of Mormon. I had many questions to ask, and the children, in their greatest enthusiasm were willing to teach me.
I didn’t understand most of what they said, but I knew one thing'”this was the most calm household, the children always happy to do what was asked of them, no harsh words or bitterness; just love. The house, only lit by oil lamps had radiance beyond explanation.
It was nearing winter; trees baron, gloomy clouds, a brisk feel in the air, and most of all, everyone hustling to get all the crops in and put away. The enticing smell of apples and cinnamon filled the kitchen, pumpkin pies, hot apple cider, fresh warm breads, and children squealing as they sample the goods made my heart leap. This is how I always dreamt home should be.
I came from a household were we dreaded the return of my father from his trapping excursions'”the putrid odor of stale whiskey and musk made my stomach turn; he was rarely in a pleasant mood. With most of his money spent on whiskey and gambling, there was never much leftover for our household. My father was worse than the wild animals he skinned, smelly, vile, and a raving mountain man. Sometimes, wished he would forget his way home.
Mom took to selling herb remedies to the town folk; Celery seeds to help clear uric acid from the joints of gout and arthritis, dandelion to dispel uric acid, feverfew as a treatment of fever, arthritis and migraines and Tarragon was used to cure toothaches. Mom took up sewing too. On some occasions, mom prepared the dead for viewing; she washed them, combed their hair, and placed crisp clean undergarments on them and whatever else their families wanted them to wear. Mom said she liked taking care of them; she thought it was an act of love and kindness to make them ready for heaven.
We had a little farm which allowed us our basic needs, but shoes, sugar, flour, and other things were hard to come by. Sometimes, my brothers would work for other farmers during peak times for some additional money. We went to school, but learning was a luxury at times. One Christmas, we were happy to get tablets to write on.
In this house, no matter how little there seemed to be; everyone was always happy and grateful. I slept the tired out of my body and wanted to do my part; my favorite thing to do was milk the cows, and churn butter. I also loved baking biscuits'”that’s the one thing I am very good at. I can make them high, light, and flaky!
Sister Hansen invited Brother Jacob and his children to Sabbath supper; fried chicken, my biscuits, potatoes, gravy, and some baked apples. Jacob patted my tummy and spoke to my baby.
“Hi there little one, are you getting enough to eat?” My little one jumped as he spoke.
“My guess is, he already knows your voice.” I answered.
Jacob took me by the hand and covered my eyes, we went to the barn where he said he had a special gift for the baby. As he slowly took his hands away from my eyes, I saw the most beautiful cradle ever built. He made it from aspen logs; curvy knotted, and strong. My heart swelled, my eyes filled up with tears; never in my life has anyone done such a wonderful thing like this for me before. Soon, the barn was filling up with other people, they had quilts, baby gowns, booties and sweaters, and there was a rattle too. How could so many strangers treat me like this? I am a no body'”a drifter looking for a place to call home. I have found all that and so much more. My baby will be loved by many.