The sun’s coming up over the horizon – a masterpiece of God, Papa would call it, colors transforming the sky into a brilliant portrait. I shift in my saddle, leaning over to stroke Ramses’ neck. The horse snorts and lowers his head to nibble on some grass. I inhale deeply, contentment spreading like soothing waters within. My eyes survey the expanse of land below – my land passed down from Papa.
Our family hasn’t always known contentment. I was six-years-old when we made the journey west in a wagon train of easterners bent on making a fortune in California’s gold rush. That wasn’t Papa’s dream, though. He said God spoke to him clearly with words and a vision, showing him a vast expanse of land with green fields, cattle, horses, fruit trees, a nice house and barn, and Mama working a lush garden.
At night when the wagons set up camp, I’d crawl under our wagon and have talks with God. God never said a word to me. When my little sister, Hannah, fell off the wagon and hit her head, I talked to God to save her, but we buried Hannah there. I asked Papa if in his talks, God told him Hannah would die. Papa didn’t answer.
Mama and Papa waited a long time for babies; almost gave up hope. When I finally came along, Mama said it seemed fitting to name me Isaac, since Papa was Abraham, Abe for short, and Mama was Sarah. Then along came Hannah, Abigail and a brother, Andrew, born after Hannah died. But Andrew died too. There were no more babies after that. Burying Hannah and Andrew was a sorrowful time.
Our sorrow lifted when Papa saw this place. He said, “This is it, the land God showed me.” We said goodbye to the friends we’d made. I waved until my arm hurt as the wagon train left us.
We lived in our wagon at first while Papa started building a house. I helped Papa the best I could. A drifter came by and worked for awhile, said he was on his way to California to find some gold. He left when Papa got four walls and a roof up.
Mama planted a garden, and Papa kept expanding on the house, built us a barn. We got some horses and cows. Papa had money, but I don’t know from where. Papa rode me on horseback to school every day until I was big enough to take the horse on my own. “Everyone needs to be educated,” Papa kept telling me whenever I fussed about school. Abigail loved school. Sundays, Papa hitched up the wagon, the one he’d made from the big wagon, and we went to church. “Church is more important than school,” Mama told me. “Put God and family first, Isaac.”
I never thought about girls or family until I was nineteen. Lizzie was a year older than me. She’d come west to take a husband after her parents died. The man she’d been writing to as a husband took one look at her and said, “ I ain’t marrying you, girl. You’re skinny as a rail, and ugly as my horse.”
She found work in the saloon cleaning floors and tables, until one time some drunken cowboys got it into their heads she should do them favors, “Since you ain’t nothing to look at,” one of them said. She fought and they roughed her up something awful. Papa found her and brought her home.
Lizzie became like family. Mama said beauty comes from within, so Lizzie was very beautiful. I liked Lizzie. She was funny, smart and real sweet. I didn’t mind her orange hair, freckles and bucked teeth.
We married two years later with my parents’ blessing. Within a year, our twin sons, Matthew and Mark were born, then along came Luke, then John, then twin girls, Hannah and Sarah. Mama said Lizzie was made for birthing babies. Our last baby was Abraham, and he looked exactly like Papa.
Papa and Mama are long gone now. So is my sweet Lizzie. We buried our little Abraham when he was a baby. Me – I’m sixtry-five and strong as an ox, got more grandkids than I can count. I told Papa once that God never talks to me like He did him. Papa said, “God speaks in many ways, Isaac.”
So, mornings I ride upon the hill. God speaks! He speaks in the beauty all around me, and through my many blessings.
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