Sissy Danvers walked on hallowed ground. Whether she was Virginia reeling after harvest, or competing in the rodeo, awe surrounded her. I should know. She birthed me before dawn and was hauling home a deer behind her horse before dinner with me slung like a papoose on her back. She introduced me to Papa a week later when he drove in the herd for market.
Her lanyard was anchored by an Apache dagger sheathed in buffalo hide. That slasher skinned hogs, ended the cackles of a century of cluckers, and even transformed the hide of a Grizzly into a welcome mat by her hearth. Four sons and two daughters were freed from their cords by the quick flick of that blade.
Sissy was no lacrimal missy turning on the Niagara Falls to manipulate her man. Mama could hold her own with any pioneer. She had the piercing eye of an eagle, the cunning of a fox, the wit of a twelve-point buck, and the bite of a rattler.
I watched her lacerate a pompous lackadaisical Texas cowhand singlehandedly with her tongue. She had no time for gadabouts and drifters, no patience with hooligans and ruffians. If the sun was working then so was she and everyone around her.
Although few believe it Mama had another side. I once heard her sniggering behind the barn when she found a coon washing his paws before stealing her eggs. She loved Godís creatures and studied their habits to gain the wisdom of her Creator.
She could sing whispered lullabies that rivaled honeycomb in their sweetness. Her jams overwhelmed the ladies from town at the country fair. Her fried chicken couldnít be matched. And she could add a dozen patches on the seat of my britches before she would concede to a new pair.
Mama wouldnít stand for her kids to be learning haphazardly. She used up a dozen wooden spoons bringing righteousness to harvest in our restless souls. Sissy Danvers [nee OíConner] was self-taught and she borrowed everything else from the books of neighbors. No slipshod lessons were tolerated. After chores and fishing it was four hours of deliberate assault on our grey matter.
With no church near enough Mama taught us the songs of Zion, the commandments, the stories of Jesus and Daniel and David and Joshua. Even though Mama made us take turns, in our dramas I loved to play the part of the angels ripping off the wheels from Egyptian chariots in the middle of the Red Sea. I loved to be one of the three in the middle of the blazing furnace. I loved to be Elijah calling down the fire from heaven. Iím sure Mama would have loved those parts as well.
It wasnít until that third year of drought that I saw Mama wilt even a trace. Papa was a broken man by then. The herd was down to a few dozen. The hands had all been released. Most of our neighbors had moved on and the creek was fishless and almost dry.
We joined a wagon train heading west. Mama wore her best frock and didnít look back once when we pulled away. She set her eyes on the distant hills and clucked at the horses. I rode the Chestnut while Papa lay in the back. My five siblings took turns herding the half dozen cattle we hadnít butchered and dried into jerky for the journey. Mama had trained me to shoot so I brought in the rabbits and deer to give us some fresh meat.
Papa almost made it. We buried him under a tree beside the road. Everyone stopped for an hour to pay respects. Mama cried a single tear and then herded us back to our places. At the next town she pulled out of the wagon train and ended her adventure.
The townspeople laughed themselves silly when Sissy Danvers Ė single mother of six Ė offered to be the town Sherriff. Even her shooting display didnít impress them. Mama humbled herself and took over a dining room. She quietly took the compliments and abuse of the customers while shooing us off to a real school.
Now and then I can picture her sitting in a rocker on that porch. Sighing. Crying. She holds her broom like a rifle and stares off longingly toward the plains. Her buffalo-hide covered weapon is hidden away just like her icy glare and her razor-like words. My body still aches for a hug from this rawhide mama.
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