My grandfather, Wally Van Casten, waxed often about the distresses and expeditions of his youth. He’d regale us youngsters for hours about the vast openness of the great seas and the marvelously empty prairies. He told about the time he climbed the highest mountain in the world. Him and some knight. He said, “Now Everest is the highest, but Mauna Kea is the tallest.” Of course, he’d climbed them both. Top to bottom. Or, rather, bottom to top. He said that when he started to climbing Mauna Kea, out in the islands, he had to start with a water proof coat on him or he’d drown.
One of my favorites was when he was a cowboy and rode the wild west with Wyatt Earp and Marshall Dillon. My grandpa knew a lot of famous cowboys. He was also a trapper that used to scout and lead folks over the mountains to the new land. Especially up Alaska way. He struck it rich in the California goldmines and lost it all on a Mississippi riverboat gambling.
“I remember ol’ Beauregard Tremaine,” he said once when we we’re at him and granny’s place for Christmas. “Why old Beauregard was the town Sheriff down in Tustin, Texas.” That’s where Grandpa was from, Tustin. “He was a right on’ry character too! O’ course, you needed to be like that if you were gonna sheriff a town with feud a going on like Tustin had.
“I recall, it was a Saturday night and they was a holdin’ a big shindig of a hoe down at the Fossy place. It was the week of the Fourth of July, my sixteenth summer. Why there was colored lights out all over and firewerks galore.” He smiled and looked down at us three kids. We were all gathered around the old rocking chair on the front porch. The evening was setting in and we were all bundled up under a couple a blankets. It was me, Tommy, my youngest brother and Sarah, our sister. We sat with full attention hanging on every word grandpa said. “Why, they had enough firewerks to blowed up the whole town.” He smiled so big, I thought his teeth were gonna fall right out there on the porch. He was a long and sinewy man, grizzled from years of working in the hot sun and foul weather. He leaned back in that old rocker and gazed off into the distance, trying to get his thoughts, and running his fingers through that grey, short mop of hair. “Little Lucy Sue was just about as dressed up as you could imagine. She was the purtiest thang I think I ever saw.”
“Who’s Lucy Sue, gwandpa?” Tommy asked.
He stopped rocking and looked down at Tommy. “Who’s Lucy Sue?” He said, just about laughing his way right out of the chair. “Well, sonny, that’s there’s yer granny’s name.” He laughed a little more. I didn’t know any better myself, but I knew not to ask. Granny’d always been granny.
“Anyhow, she was all purtied up with a nice new dress and a fixed up hair do.” He looked at us and scooted in his old chair a might closer. “But she weren’t my girl. At least she weren’t then. You see, she was a Fossy.”
Tommy piped up again. “You mean gwanny used to spit out water?”
Grandpa laughed until he was in pain. Or at least, he kept holding his side and saying, “Oh, that hurts.” Finally, he paused. “No, lil’ Tommy. Not a faucet, that there was granny’s last name a fore I married her.” Tommy seemed to take that. I don’t think he really understood it though.
“Anyhow, I went to that big get together that night even though I wasn’t s’posed to.” He leaned in real close. “Ya see, the Castens and the Fossys was a feuden. We didn’t get along a’ tall. Seems it went all the way back to the Santa Maria, when they’s camed over from Yourip.
“But I’d been a lookin’ at the fine daughter they had. That Lucy Sue was the most beautiful girl I’d done laid my eyes on. I kinda think she was a bit shine’n on me too. But I had no idee what I was abouts to get into. Ya sees, she had two older brothers and a real cantankerous old man.
“Yeps, ol Neville Fossy was a man not to trifle with.”
Sarah interrupted. “Grandpa, what about Mr. Treeman?”
He just looked at little Sarah and broke into a big smile. “I’m getting’ to that, little one.” He brushed her hair, as she smiled and snuggled deeper into the blanket.
“You see, if it hadn’t been for Mr. Tremaine... That is Mr. Treeman, I don’t think I’d’ve survived that night.
“I snuck up close to the old barn where the dancing and music was at. We had us a barn not too dif’rnt than theirs, so I got myself inside from shimmen’ up the loft rope. Up there in the loft, I could see the whole shebang. And I’da stayed right there the whole time too if’n it weren’t for that Lucy Sue.
“Why, when that fancy little lady came a walkin’ in that place, my ol heart just stopped beatin’.” I looked over at Tommy and Sarah. They were glued to grandpa's expressive face. “Her black as night hair was all up in a bee hive jussa shining like a…” He searched for a word, his eyes looking up to the roof of the porch. “Well, like an ol eight ball.” He looked at us. We had no idea what an eight ball was. I think he knew it too. “Anyhow, it was shiny and black.”
“Boy, she was a wearing the purtiest ol lacy gown I’d ever saw. I was a thinking’ she musta made it herself. It fit her real nice.” Grandpa looked at the mountains out there in front of his old cabin. I’m not so sure he was there with us at that moment. The mountains seemed to have his full attention. “Her green eyes looked like a couple a them emeralds the rich folks in town are always a wearing. And them purty lips a hers… They looked like they come off a bright red apple. And I think there mighta been a glow around her…” He smiled at us kids. “Ya know, like a halo thing. There wasn’t any doubt who the purtiest girl was at that shindig, that’s fer sure.
“I watched her come in and I was so mesmerized by her presence there, that I stepped right off the edge a that there loft and felled right into the midst of all the folks a dancing. I hit head first, so I was okay.” He laughed. “When I rolled over, I expected to see her starin’ down at me.” His grin left his face. “But it was her pa, Neville. And he knew I wasn’t s’posed to be there. Much less, in his loft.
“A few seconds later, I was a looking down the barrel of a shotgun, a begging for my life. Lucy Sue had tried to get her pa t’ let me alone and I’s could go home. But he didn’t want nothing’ like that a happening. Even his ol woman tried to get him to let me alones. He grabs me by the shirt collar and him and his two boys took me outside and around to the feed barn. They tied me off t’ a post and…” Grandpa looked at us. We were mortified. “Well, it tain’t as bad as it sounds now. At least it weren’t.” He smiled and giggled a little.
“Nope, good ol Sheriff Tremaine spoke up behind us. “Neville, that there’s just a boy,” he said. “You might’n have issues with his pa, but you let that boy alone. After all, the whole town was invited.” Ol Neville turned with his shotgun kinda pointed at the Sheriff. But good ol on’ry Tremaine, he already had his .45 out. “Put it away Neville. This here’s a party, remember?”
“Neville just smiled and handed the scatter gun to one o’ his boys and walked away. I ran off to the front of the ol barn to see Lucy Sue. She was really scared.
“My pa found out I’d snuck out and was nosing around a lookin’ fer me. That’s you’re great granddad. He was a might riled and come afta me with a strap. He knewed I had a shine for Lucy and, ‘spected to find me there. I thought that pa and Neville were gonna beat one a’tother up real good, but Mr. Tremaine, he kept it nice.” We looked at grandpa with wonder.
“Grandpa, do you miss granny?” I asked.
Grandpa had a tear coming down his right cheek. I’d never seen grandpa cry before. “C’mon kids,” he said getting up from his ol rocking chair. “Your ma’s probably got supper on and your pa’ll be back from town any minute. Let’s get in before it get’s too cold.” We bundled up our blankets and moved inside. Grandpa just stood there, staring at those old mountains.
Matthew R. Davenport, 2008
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Matt, this is an absolute delight. I couldn't stop reading it and that's something becaue I'm not one for long stories. And yes ... you have a good idea there about writing something from a Newbie's perpsective for Regular Submissions to introduce FaithWriters to those who come and visit. If you do, it's probably be a treat - this sure was. Love,