KC AND GRUMPS 5
a Sweetwater Saga short story
KC sat cross-legged on the wooden planks of the kitchen floor, her elbows resting on her knees and her face cradled in her hands. Charley sat beside KC mimicking her position. They were listening to Jennifer, seated in a chair at the kitchen table, reading from their grandmother's letter.
“…And the tree is so tall it almost touches the ceiling in the sitting room. I can't imagine what it must have cost Thomas but he insisted I have the biggest one of all. You should have seen your brothers struggle to get it through the front door. We had to move all the furniture into one corner to be out of reach of the long branches. But they finally managed to drag it inside and prop it up. It takes up a full third of the room.
“It took me a week to decorate it. I had to make a special trip to the dress shop to buy more ribbon for tying bows. I don't believe I would be finished yet if some of the girls in the neighborhood hadn't asked to help. It was quite the debate as to which one would climb the ladder to reach the top branches. But now it is finished and well worth our efforts. The decorations shine and sparkle and I must admit I enjoy just sitting and looking at it.
“I best close for now as the post carrier will be making his rounds soon and I do want to send this on its way to you. Do give the children a hug and kiss for me. I miss them dearly, as I miss you and Jesse.”
“I'm sure it's very pretty,” Jennifer said, her voice betraying a sense of wistfulness.
KC cocked her head to the side and thought for a moment. “Very pretty,” she murmured as if picturing the unseen tree in her mind. The letter, describing her grandmother's preparations for the coming holiday, had arrived several days earlier and had been read many times. But each day she would ask for it to be read again.
The door at the back of the kitchen opened and Jesse walked inside pulling a pair of heavy gloves off her hands. “Boy is hitched up. Are you about ready to go to town, darlin'?”
“Yes,” Jennifer replied, folding the letter to return it to its envelope. “I just need to get these two into their coats.”
KC raised her arms into the air. “Mommy?” Jesse obliged her daughter, reaching down then snatching her up into her arms. “Can I stay wif Grumps?”
“Well…” Jesse shot a questionable look toward her wife. When Jennifer shrugged then nodded, she continued. “I suppose it's really up to your grandfather since he'll have to keep an eye on you.”
“Can I ask Grumps?”
“Sure. He's bringing Boy up to the front of the house. Wait for him on the porch,” Jesse said as she dropped KC back down to the floor. She removed her Stetson and ran her fingers through her shoulder length hair while she watched KC scurry out of the kitchen and into the sitting room.
“Sweetheart, she should put on her coat.” Jennifer said. “It's cold out.”
“I'll take it out in a minute. But, first,” Jesse bent over and placed a kiss on Jennifer's lips, “a kiss for my girl.” Then, she reached down to lift Charley off the floor. “And a kiss for my little man.” Charley giggled when she blew a raspberry on his cheek. “Come on, let's get you bundled up and take your sister her coat before she starts to turn blue.”
Just then the front door burst open and KC rushed inside followed by a blast of winter air. “Momma, Grumps says I needs a coat,” KC shouted as she ran through the house.
Jennifer smiled and pushed herself up from the chair. She limped to the row of pegs sticking out from the wall next to the kitchen door and plucked KC's coat off a peg. She barely had time to hold it open before KC slipped her arms into the sleeves and started back toward the front of the house.
“Whoa there, Sunshine,” Jesse called to her daughter causing KC to slide to a stop.
KC turned to face her mothers. “Grumps said I could stay wif him,” she informed them.
“That doesn't mean you can run through the house like a wild bull,” Jesse gently scolded.
Jesse smiled to relieve the worried look on KC's face. “Go tell your grandfather we'll be right out.”
KC grinned then spun around. “Okay,” she said, walking with very measured steps out of the kitchen.
“That child has more energy than all the children in town put together,” Jennifer commented while slipping into her own coat. Then she lifted Charley's coat off its peg and carried it to where Jesse was standing with their son in her arms. “I can't imagine what it'll be like when she starts her lessons.”
Jesse laughed. “I suspect the town folk will offer to pay us to keep her home after she talks some of the others to join in her adventures.”
Jennifer chuckled. “I'm pretty sure Ed will.”
Jesse reached for her wife's hand. “Come on, you know how Poppa gets when he has to wait.”
“Was beginnin' to think you'd changed your mind,” Stanley groused as soon as Jesse and Jennifer exited the house. He was standing with the draft horse's bridle firmly grasped in his large hand as KC bounced on Boy's broad back.
“Goodness, Stanley,” Marie chided. “It hasn't been more than a few moments.” She was already seated on the buckboard's seat with a warm woolen blanket tucked around her to protect against the wintry day.
Jesse helped Jennifer down the porch steps. “Sure KC won't be a bother?” she asked her father as she guided her wife to the buckboard.
“When ain't she?” Stanley grumbled.
Jennifer bit the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing. As irritated as Stanley tried to sound, she knew he adored KC and welcomed the time the two spent together.
“Well, we can take her with us,” Jesse offered as she helped Jennifer up onto the wagon seat.
“Nah,” Stanley shook his head. “Told her she could stay. Best keep my word.”
Jesse reached for KC. “You be good,” she told the girl as she lifted her off Boy's back. “Do what your grandfather says.” She kissed KC on the top of her head before gently setting her down onto the ground.
“I will, Mommy,” KC assured her mother then skipped over to stand beside Stanley, slipping her small hand into his much larger one.
Jesse climbed onto the wagon and settled beside Jennifer who was wrapping a blanket around herself and Charley seated in her lap. She allowed her wife to stretch a blanket over her legs before unwrapping the reins from around the brake handle. “We'll be back before dark,” she told her father who nodded and released his hold on the bridle. Lightly slapping the reins on Boy's rump, she nudged the horse into motion then let him set his own speed.
“Bye,” KC called out and waved as Boy pulled the wagon away from the house.
“Bye, sweetie,” Jennifer called back.
Stanley watched the buckboard cross the ranch yard then he looked down to find KC smiling up at him. “Best we find something warm to keep us busy,” he said as a cold gust of air blew past.
“Best we do,” KC agreed, pulling her coat tighter around her body.
“You got something in mind?”
KC nodded. “Yep,” she said. “We needs a tree.”
KC looked up at her grandfather. “For Momma,” she said decisively.
Stanley studied his determined granddaughter. He had heard Jennifer read the descriptions of her mother's holiday tree many times and hadn't failed to notice how contemplative she had become after reading it. He wondered if the young girl standing beside him had realized the same. “You think she wants one of them fancy trees?”
“Well, then, we best find one that'll fit in the house.”
“Well?” Stanley asked as he watched KC circle a four foot tall Douglas fir. The tree was growing on the slope of the hillock leading to the ranch gate.
“It's big,” KC exclaimed excitedly.
Stanley chuckled, realizing his perspective was opposite hers since he stood a good two feet taller than the top of the tree. “It's big enough. You go sit over there,” he said, pointing to a grassy spot several feet away.
“So you're out of the way, that's why. Don't want this tree falling on top of you when I cut it down.”
KC glanced up at the tree. Sensing the wisdom of her grandfather's request, she ran for designated spot. “Okay, Grumps. I'm sittin',” she called to Stanley.
“Good. Now stay put.” Assured his granddaughter was out of danger's way, Stanley knelt down then worked his way between the fir's branches to the trunk. He set to work with the saw they had retrieved from the barn before starting their search for the perfect tree.
KC clapped when the tree began to tilt. “It's falling, Grumps. It's falling.”
Stanley kept a firm grip on the tree as he made the final cut then allowed the fir to gently collapse onto its side.
KC ran to the tree. Grasping a bottom branch, she tried to pull it toward the house. “Grumps, it's heavy.” She grunted when the tree refused to budge. “You help me.”
“Hold on there,” Stanley said as he stood. “We can't just drag it inside. We need to make up something that'll keep it upright.”
KC released her grip on the tree. “How we do that?”
Stanley thought for a moment then headed back to the barn. KC followed, skipping along beside him.
“That should do it,” Stanley said, testing the sturdiness of the boards he had nailed to the base of the fir's trunk. “Let's see if it'll work. Stand back.”
KC scooted back several steps then watched as her grandfather pushed the tree upright. “It worked, Grumps,” she shouted when the tree stood on its own.
“Sure ‘nough did,” Stanley said, somewhat surprised his makeshift stand was indeed keeping the tree upright. Smiling, he pushed the tree back onto its side.
“We take it in the house now, Grumps?”
Stanley took a firm hold on the fir's trunk while KC gripped the tip of the tree. Then, bearing all of the weight, he dragged the tree toward the house.
Maneuvering the tree across the ranch yard and up onto the porch proved easier than fitting it through the front door. Stanley had KC hold the door open while he tugged the tree's stiff lower branches through the unyielding opening. After several minutes of battling the stubborn branches, he managed to yank the tree inside the house.
KC followed the tree inside, the door slamming against its frame behind her. “Pull it up, Grumps,” she encouraged.
Stanley looked around the sitting room. Although it was sparsely furnished, a space would have to be made for the tree. As he considered the options for placing the tree, he asked KC, “What you fixin' to use as decorations?”
KC grinned. “I'll be right back.” Before her grandfather could stop her, she ran back out onto the porch and down the steps.
Stanley looked through the window to see KC running across the ranch yard in the direction of the cabin he shared with his wife. “Wonder what she's fixin' to find there?” he asked himself. Shaking his head, he pulled the tree upright to give him room to work. Deciding the tree would look best in the corner of the room he picked up the chair occupying the space and carried it across the room and out of the way.
KC pulled open the door to her grandparent's cabin then hurried inside. Dropping to her knees beside the bed, she bent over to peer under it. Spotting her objective, she squirmed under the bed until she could reach the non-descript box. Grasping its sides, she yanked it toward the edge of bed and re-emerged with a grunt. Sitting down, she placed the box between her legs and slowly lifted the lid to peer inside. “Pretty,” she said with a happy sigh then carefully shut the lid. Pushing up off the floor, she lifted the box and secured it in her arms before heading for the cabin's door.
Stanley was just finishing up setting the tree into the corner of the sitting room when the front door opened and KC carried her grandmother's sewing box into the house.
“Grumps, look,” KC said as she placed the box on the floor close to the tree. She lifted the lid and pulled out a handful of ribbon, each a different color and length. “Pretty ribbons.”
Stanley nodded. “Right pretty.”
“Can you help me tie them on the tree?”
“I suppose so. Hand me one of them.”
KC held up a red ribbon. “Put it there,” she said pointing to the nearest branch.
Stanley tied the ribbon around the branch and into a neat bow. “How's that?”
“Good. Here,” KC said, holding up another ribbon.
Stanley and KC worked together until all the ribbons were tied onto the tree then they stood back to observe their tree. “What do you think?” Stanley asked.
KC tilted her head to the side. “We needs shiny things,” she finally said. “Gramma said it was shiny and sparkled.”
“Anything shiny in that box?”
KC rummaged through the buttons and spools of thread. “Nope,” she said, unhappily.
“Hmmm.” Stanley thought for a moment. “I have an idea.”
“You do?” KC said, incredulously.
“Ain't got to say it like that.”
KC looked up at him. “Like what?” she asked, innocently.
“Never mind,” he grumbled. “Come on.”
After putting on their coats, Stanley and KC walked through the kitchen to the back porch.
“Where we going?” KC asked as she followed her grandfather down the porch steps.
“To get you some shiny things for your tree,” Stanley explained as he stopped next to a pile of empty tin cans. Sorting through the cans, he choice a dozen of the ones with the least number of dents in their sides. “Think you can carry some of these?”
“Be careful, don't want you cutting yourself on the edges.”
“I be careful,” KC said as she bent to pick up a couple of cans then followed her grandfather to the barn.
Stanley pounded the last can flat then set it next to the others on the workbench. He picked up a chisel and, placing the tip on one of the flattened tins, struck it with the hammer. He repositioned the chisel and struck it again. Slowly, the cut edges of tin took shape.
KC sat on the workbench watching in awe as her grandfather worked. She laughed and clapped her hands when a star was held up for her approval. Cautiously, she reached for the decoration.
“Shiny ‘nough for ya?” Stanley asked.
KC nodded. “Pretty, Grumps. Very pretty.”
Stanley grinned. “Well, let's get the rest of them cut out. Yer folks will be coming home soon.”
Jesse noticed the cut stump as Boy plodded down the hillock toward the house. But before she could mention it to Jennifer she heard her daughter's excited cries of greeting. “Looks like they survived another day together,” she commented seeing her father on the porch, casually leaning against one of the roof's supports. KC was jumping up and down next to him.
“Momma, hurry,” KC called.
“I wonder what she's so excited about,” Marie said.
Jesse laughed. “Well, the barn is still standing. And so is Poppa.”
“Stop that,” Jennifer scolded, playfully swatting Jesse on the thigh.
Jesse slapped the reins on Boy's rump and he quickened his steps toward the house. “What's got you so fired up?” she asked her daughter when the buckboard pulled even with the porch.
“It's a surprise. Hurry.”
Jesse set the wagon's brake then climbed down. She lifted Charley out of the wagon and carried the half-asleep boy to his grandfather. Then she returned to help Jennifer and Marie down from the buckboard. Together, the family climbed the porch steps with KC urging them on.
Jennifer was the first to enter the house, limping past the door KC was holding open.
KC pointed at the corner of the sitting room. “Look, Momma.”
Jennifer turned her head in the direction KC was pointing. “Oh, my goodness,” she gasped when she spotted the decorated fir.
Marie and Jesse hurried through the doorway.
“Good heavens, Stanley,” Marie exclaimed. “Where did you get that?”
“We make it, Gramma,” KC explained. “It's pretty?” she asked, her head bobbing up and down in anticipation of her grandmother's agreement.
“It's beautiful,” Jennifer said. She limped to stand in front of the tree. “KC? Sweetie, come here.” KC skipped happily across the room to join her mother who immediately lifted her into her arms. “You made this for me?”
KC nodded. “It's pretty. Just like Gramma's.”
“Oh, sweetie. I'm sure it's much prettier than your grandmother's. In fact, I think it's the prettiest tree ever.” Jennifer kissed KC on the cheek. “Thank you.”
KC beamed. “Grumps helped.”
Stanley had entered the room and was standing near the door a step away from Jesse who was looking at him with a mixture of happiness and hurt on her face.
“We never had a tree,” Jesse said quietly.
Stanley nodded. “Maybe we should have.”
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