Roy stood on the hillside and looked out over the gold-green field of waving blue stem and buffalo grass dotted with the rusty backs of his small herd of Herefords. The spring calves had been few, but there were calves. On the other side of the Osage orange hedge that served as a fence were the fifteen acres of clover alfalfa he had so carefully nurtured into existence. Three times that summer he had worn himself to a sweating heap, swinging the scythe for hours in the cutting, dragging a wooden-toothed rake to first windrow and then pile the sweet hay before finally building the mows that stood in the far corner of the field; enough hay, he hoped, to get his herd through the next winter. Pray God it was better than the last.
The winter of 1880-81 in Nebraska had been devastating. Snow, endless snow and such bitter cold. It had been enough to numb the body clear to the bone. The rest that happened had numbed the soul. Cattle died for lack of forage as well as water. Anything that could be burned for heat and cooking and melting snow for water was buried under three or more feet of that same snow. He wasn’t sure the cattle he’d lost hadn’t just given up and died. Jane did.
After years of scraping and making do, the futility of life on the prairie that winter had just been too much for her. She was worn through like the one dress she was wearing when she closed the door to the soddy behind her and left the hours of toil and futility…and her husband and two young sons…and just walked off into the howling blankness. It took him three days to find her just a couple of hundred yards from the sandy hole in the bank they had called home for two years. It was early April before the ground had thawed enough that he could give her a proper burial. They’d stood together through so much. He didn’t blame her.
About the same week, the same storm when Jane had left, Glory, too, had had enough. Not far from Roy’s small holding, she had suffered the same hardships while trying to keep her three little girls alive. On top of the deprivation, the cold and hunger and thirst, they had dealt with the monstrosities of a man who had lost his mind to it all. Unfortunately, he hadn’t chosen the same path Jane did. Instead, he saw demons in the storms and in his own house. Glory’s suffering at his hands was worse torture than the unrelenting storms. When he began to see his daughters as his enemies, too, she couldn’t stay.
Roy’s searchings for Jane had simply been more frantic than the sometimes futile searches for lost cattle. When the wind stopped blowing long enough, or at least lessened enough that he could see, he was out looking for the scattered remnants of his herd. Roy had found Glory and her children huddled together in a blown out hollow. The bawling of a yearling had turned out to be the feeble cries of youngest girl.
It took him a few minutes to rouse Glory from the grips of the cold that was killing the four of them. They were all turning blue, and had been three days, he learned, without food and water. The fact that she roused to consciousness when he shook her impressed him. That she immediately tried to shield her children was a marvel. He reassured her, then convinced her to get the two older girls on their feet while he picked up the smallest. It took them a good two hours to stagger through the drifts back to his soddy.
Collin and Michael had kept the fire going with the dried cow and buffalo dung that Roy had gathered, so it was relatively warm inside when their father came stumbling through the door. At ten and six years old, they were strong, intelligent boys with hearts like their father’s. Without a word they built up the fire, dragged blankets off their beds, and helped Roy wrap the women in warming bundles. Then the three males gave their needy visitors slow drinks of water, bites of jerky that had been soaked to soften, and bits of dried apple from the little bit of fall stores that remained.
Roy was proud of how his boys had responded then and after. They readily accepted these additions. It didn’t take many days of relying on one another just to survive to make the new arrangements seem normal. Glory and her girls—Alison, Rachel, and Amy—had become part of the family; had become family. The children were close in age and got along like siblings after only a few weeks.
Roy and Glory had spent hours together in the work of living. Reticence was out of the question. They had to learn how to live together if they were to live through that time. It was quickly apparent to both of them that their innate honesty, their shared need for companionship, and their different yet similar pasts made it easy just to be as well as to live. Soon they were more than mere helpmates.
He heard her come up behind him but didn’t turn; his smile was automatic when he felt her fingers lace with his and her head lean against his arm. It was warm in the August sunset and in his heart. In the fields where his grass and cattle and children grew there was promise for the future. He looked down at the woman at his side, and the sunlight sparkling in her eyes was not merely that same promise of a better future, but also his Glory.