Walking in His Boots (by BluewindFarm)

Summary:  I was watching Boots with my Father’s Name when my muse insistently began whispering. This is my first foray into writing for The Big Valley.

Category:  The Big Valley
Genre:  Western
Rating:  G
Word Count:  800


 

We’d been plenty proud of ourselves, or more precisely, proud of our father. Ever since Dave Wallace stopped by and informed us of the honor that the people and the town of Stockton were to bestow on our father, we hadn’t felt this good in a long time. Imagine that, a statue of Tom Barkley for everyone to look up to and know what kind of man he was.

The family had eagerly and worriedly awaited Gene’s arrival home from college; the train schedule would cut it mighty close if there was any kind of delay. When the boy finally arrived home, it felt like old times, the camaraderie, the bantering back and forth among the four of us. We knew what Mother had in mind as we ushered him into the front room, and we hoped that Gene would be able to fulfill her fondest wish.

Heath had already left the house for the morning before Mother came down and made her first request to Jarrod. As the oldest it was only right. But sacrificing his big toe would not be the best way to honor our father.

With Audra leaning over the back of the settee and his shoulder, Gene excitedly worked his foot into the boot, but met with the same failure as our oldest brother. Then, he immediately offered a solution – Heath.

Damn. I know we’ve accepted him into our home as a son of our father and as a brother, but hearing his name mentioned in connection with something that was so personal to Mother. . . How could the boy be so dense?

I guess that’s what we get for all our pride. But maybe Heath would be just as unlucky as the rest of us and not be able to fit into the boots either.

Heath enthusiastically greeted our youngest brother, and took the boots handed to him as Gene insisted that Mother wanted one of us to wear the boots at the commemoration ceremony.

Thinking Gene had been cruel before, it paled in comparison to Heath stating he wanted to think about it, and then turned Mother down. “Maybe next time.” Just how often and where else did that boy think a statue of our father would be erected?

How dare he?! Father was a great man, to the people of this valley and to this family. His refusal was a slap in the face to our father’s memory.

Heading for Heath’s room, I planned to set that boy straight. However, the commotion coming from down the hall meant only one thing, Gene had made it there before me. Grabbing for collar and belt, it was nothing to pull my youngest brother aside. With a finger and a look, my words warned him off. I knew he’d leave in a huff.

“Thanks,” Heath softly spoke.

“I said, I might understand.”

*****

The ceremony was long over and neither Mother nor Heath gave any explanation for why they missed the unveiling or where they had gone.

I might understand. Long after the others retired, I spoke with Jarrod. How does one reconcile that the man we looked up to all our lives, the man we called Father. . .

After stating how surprised he had been earlier that I hadn’t shouted down the roof once Heath bolted up the stairs, Pappy told me he’d thought long and hard about our newest brother. The only advice he could honestly offer to me was to ‘put the boot on the other foot’, and bid me goodnight.

But before leaving the study, Jarrod pulled a folder from his desk and tapped it three times. Now hours later, maybe I can understand, a little.

We should have understood. Heath reluctantly did as Gene suggested; wanting to please Mother so much. Now, I can see it all clearly, how he looked at father’s boots, and us. He interpreted the unspoken words; how Jarrod and I had stood in the room, he figured out that Mother had really meant one of her sons.

But still, how would I feel if I never knew of my father until right before Mother died? How would I feel, knowing the life Heath lived; and then came to the valley and realized just how well Tom Barkley’s family lived in comparison? What if I had been the recipient of the greeting I gave Heath that night he had revealed his secret?

I’m sure there are portions of his life that weren’t reported by the Pinkertons, but then if we knew everything about Father . . .

Put the boot on the other foot. No, Father’s boots are back where they belong. The ghost of Tom Barkley needs to be laid to rest, for all our sakes. Heath’s his son, but more importantly he is my. . . our brother.

 

~The End

 

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