A feisty north wind swept down through Eldorado Canyon and demanded obeisance from the feral prairie grasses, heavy with ripening heads. Ignoring the breeze, Laura Bradley gathered reddish pink plumes, brown seedpods, golden yarrow, and dark orange bittersweet.
From where she stood, she could see Jake had returned from the woods. An axe was slung over her brother’s shoulder, and his free hand gripped the harness of their mule, Obadiah. The sled was full.
Laura let the wind have its way with her hair while she took note of the telltale signs of the approaching winter. She lifted her chin. Won’t matter if you’re early, she thought. We’re ready.
The pantry bulged with jars of dried vegetables and canned fruits and preserves. Hams were curing in the smoke house. Venison jerky hung in strips from the rafters of the cabin. Now she had time to make her dried bouquets.
The wind lingered, and memories from a long-ago fall surfaced. She was thirteen then and had asked her mother why they gathered flowers in the fall, instead of in the summer when the blooms were prettier.
“Because these grasses and flowers last longer,” her mother had answered, “and I’m fond of them. They were part of my wedding bouquet.”
She thought her parents should have married in the summer and used roses, but her mother had smiled knowingly, “We only get to rest come winter. Getting married in the busy summer would leave no time for the joys of being together. Besides, I did have roses, two red ones that I had placed on the windowsill to dry. And I tied it all together with this....” She opened her keepsake box and took out a brown velvet ribbon.
Laura made her way to a Ponderosa pine and listened to the wind harass the fragrant branches overhead while she worked. Her thoughts drifted to the steamy days of three summers past. Scalded hands, endless bending and lifting, and an aching body made sleeping a miserable chore.
There had been no respite from the harvest then, no escaping the fruit flies or the heat. The canning continued until she felt she couldn’t go on. One evening she had wiped the sweat from her face with her apron and in a moment of frustration had shouted, “We can’t fit any more into the pantry! When are we ever going to stop?”
“God has blessed us with extra this year. I won’t let any of it go to waste.” Her mother’s gentle rebuke had left Laura in a quandary. She didn’t complain after that, but the resentment had remained.
Jake, only eleven then, had worked just as hard, cutting wood, hauling it and stacking it in the lean-to outside the back door. She could see that he was tired, but she knew he would have chopped off his hand before he would have grumbled about his blisters and sore muscles.
That same year, on a sunny September morning, Laura and Jake stayed behind while their parents rode away to help their neighbors, the Whitakers. Two days later, an unexpected blizzard descended from the Rocky Mountain peaks. Temperatures plummeted below zero. Their parents never returned.
Winter had come to stay, and with it loomed the harsh reality that she and her brother would have to survive on their own.
Every tearful trip to the pantry reminded Laura of the summer work she had despised, but she finally understood her mother’s wisdom in wanting to be prepared. Through the bitter cold months, she watched Jake mature into a young man. Without being told, he did the chores and kept the fireplace supplied with wood, just as Papa would have done. They missed their parents, but they were warm, and they had food.
When spring finally arrived, the Whitaker’s oldest son, Gil, found the bodies of Mr. and Mrs. Bradley. His kindness in bringing them over and staying to help with the burial left a lasting impression on Laura. For the next two years, his frequent visits made preparing for winter a joy.
“Gil...” The north wind, now cranky and impatient, rudely interrupted Laura’s sigh. She shivered and turned her attention back to the unfinished arrangements. Two of them she wrapped with twine and lovingly draped over her parents’ grave markers under the pine tree. She picked up the remaining bouquet and returned to the cabin.
On the windowsill lay two red roses. Come winter, she would get out her mother’s brown velvet ribbon.
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