Callie snatched off the towel that was wrapped around her waist and tossed it onto the plank that served as a table. As far as she was concerned the cabin could burn to the ground and it would be no great loss. Lem had been so full of dreams of land and a mansion that she’d been caught up in his dreaming when she’d agreed to move West. So far the only part of his dream to come true was the land; his mansion was barely a tiny cabin.
“Hey, Callie, where ya’ heading?” Lem called from the lean-to where he dreamed a barn would someday be.
“East!” she hollered as she marched toward the creek.
“Darlin’, I hate to tell ya’ this, but that direction is west.” She could hear the smile in his voice and it made her grind her teeth. She’d had it with his ‘Ain’t this grand’ attitude. All she wanted was to go home. Home was where there were neighbors and friends, towns and stores.
Reaching the creek, she crossed it and quickly continued on, paying little attention to where she was going or how long she’d been walking. As her feet followed the creek she silently ranted at her husband, slapping branches and brush out of her way.
“Lan’ sakes, girl, ya’ better be careful. Ya’ jest ‘bout ripped yer hand on these here brambles.” The voice came from a berry patch.
“Goodness, you scared me!” Callie peered into the brambles and saw an older lady in a stained dress, berry bucket in hand. “Where did you come from?”
The other lady laughed. “Originally from Maryland, but thet was so long ago I cain’t hardly ‘member it. You must be Lem’s wife. He said you was mighty purdy, with red hair an’ all.”
“Yes, I’m Callie Stanhope, Lem’s wife.”
“Waal, Callie, it’s a pleasure to meet ya’. I’m Ida Mae Hiller an’ I was gatherin’ these here berries fer a pie. Elmer an’ me was gonna stop by fer a visit tomorra’.” Ida Mae carefully picked her way out of the berry patch and sat down on a log. “Why don’t ya’ sit down an’ tell me what’s botherin’ ya.”
Callie didn’t even stop to think, she just opened her mouth and let all the bottled up frustration pour out. She told Ida Mae about Lem’s dreams and the tiny cabin, about having to haul water from the creek and not having a proper privy.
Callie stopped pacing and propped her fists on her hips. “But you know what’s getting me the most?”
Ida Mae, being a wise woman, merely raised an eyebrow.
“Lem thinks everything out here is just grand. ‘Heaven on earth.’ That’s what he calls it. Can you believe it?”
Ida Mae smiled. “Yep, I surely can. My Elmer’s jest like yer Lem.”
“How can you stand it? Doesn’t it drive you crazy?” Callie sat down, her energy spent.
“Waal, it used to, but it don’t anymore.” Ida Mae watched carefully, gauging Callie’s response.
“Once we lived near an old lady named Myra. I remember tellin’ her how bad things were an’ she tol’ me I had mud in my eyes while Elmer had stars in his.” Ida Mae laughed.
Callie surprised herself by snorting. “Lem’s got stars in his eyes, all right.”
“Mmmm. Sounds like he does. Myra tol’ me a lil’ story, explainin’ how I got muddy eyes.” Ida Mae looked closely at Callie. “Ya’ wanna hear it?”
Callie smiled weakly, too polite to say ‘no’ since Ida Mae had so patiently listened to her.
“Two men looked out from prison bars, one saw mud, the other saw stars.”
Callie just sat and stared at her, dumbfounded. “That’s it? That’s all there is to the story?”
“Yep. Thet’s it. Two men looked out from prison bars, one saw mud, the other saw stars.”
Callie looked at the creek and her shoulders slumped. Ida Mae could see the battle raging inside her, but turned and sat quietly watching the creek, letting Callie work it out on her own.
“Ok. I get it. If I want to see more than mud I’ve got to look at the stars, too.” Callie pushed to her feet once again. “Those sure are beautiful berries. Back home was so crowded there were no berries. Some berry preserves would be wonderful on biscuits.”
Ida Mae chuckled. “Berries for stars; thet’s good. Keep thet up and you’ll have stars in yer eyes, too.”
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