KC AND GRUMP
a Sweetwater Saga short story
Jennifer passed through the doorway between the kitchen and the front of the house. As expected, she spotted her daughter gazing out of a window toward the gate at the top of the knoll. “KC, your eggs are getting cold,” she said as she walked up to stand behind the little girl.
Without turning around, KC leaned back against her mother. “I wait for Mommy.”
“I know you miss her.” Jennifer gently ran her fingers through the girl’s silky hair. “But Mommy won’t be home until tomorrow.”
Jennifer smiled at her daughter’s favorite and frequent question. “Because she and Uncle Billie had to drive the freight wagon to Garnet.”
“Because Ed asked them to.”
Jennifer chuckled. She had answered the same questions dozens of times since Jesse had kissed her and the children goodbye three mornings before. “Because,” she said, smiling down at her daughter who had her head bent back to look up at her. “Now, come into the kitchen and eat your breakfast. You know Charlie won’t eat unless you do.”
“Otay.” KC relented. “I tell Cha-wie to eat.”
“That’s my girl.”
“I Mommy’s girl.” KC grabbed her mother’s hand, tugging her across the room.
“Aren’t you my girl, too?” Jennifer asked, a hint of hurt in her voice.
KC smiled over her shoulder at Jennifer. “Yep.” She nodded.
Jennifer stepped out onto the back porch, her daughter following close behind her, and carried a pail of dirty water left after washing the morning dishes to the edge of the porch.
“What Grump doin’?” KC asked as she spied her grandfather walking toward the barn.
“I don’t know.” Jennifer said as she emptied the pail into a wooded trough Jesse had made especially for her. The trough carried the water to the garden, distributing it to the neatly tended rows of vegetables and flowers, thus eliminating the need for the lame woman to walk the short distance.
“Grump,” KC called to her grandfather. “What doin’?”
Stanley Branson looked toward the back of the house to see his granddaughter teetering on the edge of the porch as she peered intently at him. He gave his daughter’s family a quick wave then disappeared into the barn.
“Be careful, KC,” Jennifer warned as the girl inched closer to the porch’s edge.
“I go there?” KC pointed toward the barn.
“No. I think we should wait here.”
Stanley re-appeared carrying Jesse’s tool box. He had managed only a few steps before his granddaughter urged him to move faster.
“Hurry, Grump. I waitin’.”
“KC.” Jennifer scolded then chuckled as her daughter bent at the waist, placing her hands on her knees and glaring across the ranch yard at her grandfather.
“Mornin’, Jennifer,” Stanley said as he approached the porch. He set the toolbox on the ground before mounting the steps.
“Good morning. We missed you at breakfast. Anything wrong?” Her parents-in-law normally ate at the ranch house.
“Marie is feeling a tad under the weather this morning.”
“Oh. Is she okay?”
“She said, if you was to ask, to say she was fine.”
“Let’s say, I don’t think she’d say no to some company and lemon tea.”
“All right. I’ll go over just as soon as I get Charley cleaned up.” Stanley and Marie were living in the cabin her mother had vacated when she had returned to the East. “I thought KC could spread food about but that boy--.” She laughed.
“Where is the lad?”
Jennifer smiled as she watched KC quietly inch over to stand right beside Stanley. Usually it was Jesse the child attached herself to but whenever the rancher was away Stanley garnered the girl’s attention. “He’s still in the high chair. It’s all I can do to keep an eye on one of them at a time.”
Stanley nodded. “They is a handful. I’ll give ’em that.”
“Momma.” The call came from inside the house.
“Sounds like I’ve been gone long enough.” Jennifer turned for the open kitchen door. “There’s still some hot coffee on the stove if you’d like a cup.”
“Think I better be gettin’ to work.” Stanley followed Jennifer inside and his granddaughter followed him.
“What do you plan to do today?”
“Thought I’d start tearing apart that chicken coop. See what can be salvaged to build a new one.”
“Oh? I thought Jesse was going to help you with that when she got back.” Jennifer knew a new coop was needed after their old coop was literally blown apart by the winds of a winter storm.
“You sayin’ I can’t do it alone?”
“Stanley,” Jennifer smiled affectionately at her father-in-law, “you know that wasn’t what I was saying. It’s just that…”
“I should wait for Jesse.” Stanley huffed. “Ya’d think I was an old man the way that girl fusses after me.”
Jennifer lifted Charley free of his high chair. “She worries about you.” She carried her son to the counter where a clean bowl of warmed water waited. “Now, stop fussing,” she told the toddler. “We can’t go visit your grandmother with a face full of egg, can we?”
KC climbed onto a chair to watch her brother’s antics. Standing on the seat, she draped her arms over the chair back and rested her chin on the top rail. “Be good, Cha-wie. Mommy be mad if we bad.”
“Seems she lets you get by with most.” Stanley humpfted.
KC slowly spun her head around to look at her grandfather. “Me go with Grump,” she announced.
“What?” Jennifer asked, wiping Charley’s face with a towel.
“Me go with Grump.”
“No,” Stanley told the girl.
“Sweetie, I think you should go with me to visit your grandmother.”
Jennifer lifted Charley off the counter and held him out to Stanley.
Stanley accepted the boy without comment.
Charley smiled at his grandfather. In an attempt to wrap his arms around his neck, his head butted into Stanley’s cheek.
“Ow.” Stanley shifted the boy to one arm, rubbing his cheek with his freed hand.
“Cha-wie. Careful.” KC admonished her brother.
“You should take Bette Mae up on her offer to pull that tooth out,” Jennifer said as she watched Stanley grimace in pain.
“I ain’t lettin’ that woman anywhere near me with that there set of pliers of hers. I’ll wait until I can see a real doc.”
“Bette Mae is the closest thing to a doctor that Sweetwater has.” Jennifer reminded Stanley of what he already knew. “Dentist too.”
“If it’s all the same to you, I’ll wait.”
“It’s your tooth.”
“Yes, it is. Now, I best be gettin’ to work.” Stanley looked around for the best place to set his grandson down.
“I’ll take him. He needs a change of britches before we go check on Marie.”
Stanley passed Charley back to his mother then strode out of the kitchen while Jennifer carried her son upstairs to his bedroom.
KC sat alone for a few moments then slipped off the chair.
Stanley picked up the tool box and walked around to the front of the house where he found KC standing on the front steps. As he walked past, his granddaughter followed him. “I thought you was goin’ visit yer grandma.”
“No. I helps you.”
Stanley continued walking. “Don’t need yer help.”
KC quickened her steps until she was walking beside Stanley. “Me good helper. Mommy says so.”
“She does, does she?”
“Won’t ya momma be missin’ ya?”
KC looked over her shoulder at the house. She saw Jennifer standing on the front porch watching her.
“Looks like your grandpa is in for an interesting day,” Jennifer told Charlie. She smiled and blew a kiss at KC. “Let’s hope your sister doesn’t cause him too much trouble.”
KC smiled and reached up, slipping her little hand into her grandfather’s much larger hand. “Nope. Momma wuvs me.”
Stanley gently closed his fingers around KC’s. “That she does, young ’un. That she does.”
Stanley pulled another wood plank free of the old chicken coop’s frame. “We can use this one again,” he said as he added the wood to a pile of planks.
“Yep,” KC agreed as she surveyed the plank before returning to her task of picking up all the small non-reusable pieces of wood in the rubble and piling them separately from her grandfather’s pile. She was wearing Jesse’s work gloves and had to constantly stop in her task to pull them back onto her small hands.
Stanley smiled as he remembered another little girl that had once worked alongside of him on his own ranch.
“Grump.” KC grunted as she struggled to pull a large plank free from the debris. “T’is one good.”
“Let me help ya there.” Stanley quickly stepped over to help his granddaughter. “Ain’t this one a tad big fer ya.”
KC tugged on the stubborn piece of wood. “Nope.”
Stanley moved aside the long roosting shelve that was holding the plank in place.
KC walked backward pulling the plank behind her. “You help,” she said when she reached the pile of stacked wood but wasn’t able to lift the plank up to add it. KC stood on her tiptoes, pushing with all her might to shove the plank onto the pile.
Stanley bent down, lifting the end of the plank and carefully guiding it into position.
KC let the work gloves drop off her hands and wiped her brow. “T’anks,” she said as she retrieved the gloves.
“Me thirsty. You thirsty, Grump?”
“Come on.” KC led Stanley to the bucket of water he had placed in the shade of the old coop earlier that morning. She pulled the dipper out of the bucket and took a long drink. Then she refilled the dipper and held it up to her grandfather. “Good,” she said, wiping drops of water off her chin after Stanley had taken hold of the dipper.
With their thirst quenched for the moment, the pair returned to the coop.
“Are you sure she should be helping Stanley?” Marie asked as she looked out the window of the cabin again. “She might get hurt.”
“She’ll be fine,” Jennifer answered. “She helps Jesse all the time.”
“But she’s so small.”
“Getting bigger by the moment.” Jennifer laughed. “Just like this one.” She was sitting on the cabin floor playing with Charley. “Aren’t you?” She reached over and tickled her son’s side.
Charley giggled as he slapped at his mother’s hand.
“They are growing, aren’t they?” Marie turned away from the window to study her daughter-in-law and grandson. “I’ve forgotten how fast they do that.”
Jennifer looked up. “I’m glad you’re here, Marie. And I know Jesse is glad, too.”
Charley yawned. He crawled to Jennifer and snuggled into her lap.
“I think it’s someone’s naptime,” Jennifer said. “Do you feel up to coming over to the house?” she asked Marie.
Marie thought for a moment. “I think I do.” She smiled.
Jennifer pushed herself up from the floor then lifted Charley into her arms and grabbed her cane from where she had left it leaning against the bed. “Good. You can tell me more stories about Jesse as a child while Charley takes his nap.”
“You know how much she hates me doing that.”
“I know.” Jennifer giggled. “But that’s not going to stop you, is it?”
Marie laughed. “Oh, heavens no.”
Stanley was standing atop a ladder working to free a stubborn portion of the roof that was refusing to come loose of the coop’s corner joist. Due to the amount of rubble under where he was working, he hadn’t taken much care in assuring the ladder’s legs were set on firm ground.
KC stood at the bottom of the ladder looking up with an arm shielding her eyes from the bright afternoon sun.
“Things tougher than a one-bit steak.” Stanley groused as he tried to pry the immovable section free. “Maybe I can beat it free with the hammer,” he muttered to himself.
KC turned and ran over to Jesse’s toolbox. “I gets,” she called back to her grandfather as she pulled the hammer out of the box.
Before Stanley could stop her, KC was running back with the hammer clasped tightly in her hands. “No. Don’t climb the ladder,” he shouted as his watched KC do just that.
“I can do’s it,” KC said without stopping.
Stanley felt the poorly positioned ladder shift under the added weight. “KC, no.”
But KC ignored the warning and climbed higher as the ladder shifted again and started to tilt precariously to one side.
Stanley grabbed for the section of roof he had been struggling with only to have it finally and, quite unexpectedly, come loose. With no way to stop the inevitable all he could do was try to prevent KC from being injured as they fell. As the ladder toppled, he snatched at KC pulling her against him. With his arms wrapped around his granddaughter, Stanley had no way to protect himself and he landed awkwardly, half on his side and half on his face.
“What was that?” Marie asked when she heard her husband shout.
Jennifer was already reaching for her cane. “I don’t know,” she said as she rose out of the chair and walked toward the front of the house. She and Marie had been sitting in the kitchen enjoying the stories Marie was recalling about her daughter.
Both women hurried out onto the front porch. Seeing a cloud of dust rising from behind what was left of the chicken coop, they hurried in that direction.”
KC lay on the ground, safely encircled by her grandfather’s protective arms. “T’at fun.” She grinned as she sat up. “You ’k, Grump?”
Stanley groaned. “Ow.” He reached for his mouth where something hard was pinching the inside of his cheek.
“Ow.” Stanley repeated. He stuck two fingers inside his mouth then withdrew them. “Well, I’ll be,” he muttered.
“What got?” KC rose to her knees, peering into her grandfather’s hand. “Mine,” she said as she removed the object he held.
“KC?” Jennifer called out as she approached the chicken coop. “Stanley? Are you guys all right?”
“Momma,” KC called excitedly. “Come ’ere.”
Jennifer hurried around the corner of the chicken coop to find Stanley laying motionless on the ground and KC sitting beside him grinning happily.
Marie gasped when she saw her prone husband. “Stanley?”
Stanley glared at KC. “Ya just had ta bring me the hammer, didn’t ya?”
“KC, are you all right?” Jennifer asked, worried the little girl covered in dust had been somehow been hurt even though she was kneeling in the dirt seemingly unaware of her mother’s concern.
KC held up her hand. “Momma, ook. I helps Grump.”
Jennifer and Marie bent over to see what KC was holding.
Marie gasped. “Oh, my. Is that--?”
“Sure looks like it.” Jennifer started to chuckle. “Stanley, is that--?” she asked as she took a closer look at the tooth resting in KC’s palm; a tooth much too big for her active daughter’s mouth.
“Yes.” Stanley grumbled, pushing himself up into a sitting position. “That there is my tooth.” He reached to retake possession of his missing tooth.
KC clamped her hand closed around the tooth. “Mine,” she said standing up and bouncing away from her grandfather.
“Sweetie, give grandpa his tooth back.” Jennifer struggled to get the words out, she was laughing so hard.
Marie laughed. “Don’t know why he’d want it back. All he’s done for days is complain about it.”
“Humpft.” Stanley grumbled.
“Sweetie, what do you plan to do with the tooth?” Jennifer asked.
“Me keeps for Mommy.”
“Well, I’m not too sure Jesse is going to have much use for it. But if grandpa says it all right, you can keep it.”
Taking very deliberate steps, KC walked over to her grandfather. “Me keeps?” she asked, holding out her hand with the tooth.
KC smiled broadly. “Pease?”
“Yeah. Ya can keep the blame tooth. It surely weren’t doin’ me much good.”
KC looked at Jennifer who nodded.
“T’anks, Grump.” KC leaned in, placing a kiss on her grandfather’s cheek. Then she turned and took off running for the house. “Me shows Cha-wie.”
“But he’s asleep,” Marie called after her granddaughter.
Jennifer laughed. “He won’t be for long.” She held a hand out to Stanley. “Need some help,” she asked as he was still sitting on the ground.
“No.” Stanley grumbled then stood up. “How ya put up with that there bundle of trouble, I’ll never know.”
“That’s easy,” Jennifer said. “It’s the thought of how I’d ever do without her that pains me.”
“Ain’t that the truth,” Marie said as she checked Stanley for any other injuries. “You want to tell us what happened?”
“Good. You can tell us while we fix supper.”
“Still got work to do.”
“I think you’ve done enough for today,” Marie told her husband. “Now, come with us.”
Jennifer agreed. “I think its best we get back inside before KC talks Charley into doing to the house what you spent the day showing her to do with the chicken coop.”
“She wouldn’t.” Marie said nervously.
Jennifer laughed. “Oh, yes, she would.”
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