A Thanksgiving Tale (by Vickie G.)

Synopsis:  It’s Thanksgiving on the Cross B, and the family shares a special moment with the newest member.

Category:  The Big Valley
Genre:  Western
Rating:  G
Word Count:  2,470


He awoke early in the morning, just as dawn was beginning to break. As his brother would say, this was a working ranch. But he wasn’t a rancher. Why was he awake at dawn? Today is a holiday; even my rancher brothers can sleep in as could the hands out in the bunkhouse. So why am I awake?’

Usually he was the last one down to breakfast in the mornings, his brothers Nick and Heath already long gone from the house by the time he reached the dining room. He continued to lie in bed and ponder why he was awake, but more importantly, what this particular holiday was all about. Today was Thanksgiving. A particularly American holiday the rest of the world didn’t celebrate. He’d heard somewhere that Canada had a Thanksgiving of its own, but that it wasn’t the same day as the American one. This was a day originally to celebrate the surviving of the pilgrims with the aid of the Indians who helped them. But a few short years ago President Lincoln had declared a national day of Thanksgiving.

What did that mean to this Barkley son? Oh, he was thankful for his profession, his family’s wealth, their lands, stock, vineyards, orchards and the like. But it wasn’t the material possessions he was most thankful for. No, for this young man, it was his family. He and two of his brothers fought in the Civil War that ended only a few years earlier. He hadn’t even known at the time there were three of them fighting in that horrendous conflict. The youngest, the one he didn’t know about, was really too young to serve, but the boy was an excellent shot so the recruiter overlooked his age and took him into the army. That had resulted in the boy becoming a prisoner of war. But the boy had survived. They had all three survived. Most families had lost at least one son, many all their sons. Some lost sons on both sides of the conflict, but all the Barkley boys came home, even though one didn’t come to the ranch until earlier this year. That was something this oldest Barkley son was extremely thankful for. They’d all survived with scars that could be seen and those that could not. But survive they had, and for that, Jarrod was extremely thankful.

He lay in bed and listened to the quiet of the house. Eugene had arrived on the train from Oakland just last night and had to return to college on Sunday. But they were all together, all together, except for their father, killed by an assassin’s bullet by the same railroad that allowed the youngest son to be able to travel back to the family ranch for this holiday. When Jarrod had been in college, the same trip would have taken the entire visit to travel home, let alone travel back. So Jarrod spent those years away from home with friends who lived closer to the college or, one time, he’d spent it alone. But then he thought about it. Thanksgiving didn’t exist then, like it did now, so he hadn’t really missed anything, at least the first couple of years he was in college. That was before there was an official Thanksgiving on the last Thursday in November.

As he lay in bed, he heard a sound in the hallway. He slipped on his clothes and followed his blonde-haired brother down the stairs and out the door to the rise away from the house where Heath spent many mornings watching the sun rise in the East. Jarrod hadn’t known that until recently. Heath had been injured and Nick wanted to help Heath sneak out of the house to watch the sunrise. He needed help with the young man and had enlisted ‘Papp’s’ help. That was the first time Jarrod learned that every morning Heath went to the little knoll and communed with nature. Something Heath had done alone until he confided in Nick that he really needed to see the sunrise to feel like life was worth getting well for. Put that way, neither older brother could refuse to help Heath get to that knoll.

As Jarrod approached the knoll this morning, he realized that not only had Heath gotten to the knoll before him, but so had Nick. This morning there was a blanket on the ground and a pot of coffee set on a flat stone in a fire ring. Even though this was California, late November mornings had a chill to them and the fire ring had been established as the chilly mornings demanded a fire. But the fire ring was placed so when they stood to watch the sunrise, the fire warmed their backs and the flames could not attempt to outshine Mother Nature’s glorious light.

Heath heard his oldest brother’s arrival, poured a cup of the strong, bitter brew for him and handed it to him with a nod. Jarrod greeted Nick with a silent nod as well. The morning hush remaining unbroken except for the crackle of the fire. It wouldn’t be broken until the cock, still sleeping in the barnyard, heralded the dawn that was soon to break. The three oldest brothers stood shoulder to shoulder facing the East and awaiting nature’s display. The hush was broken by soft footfalls and the three turned to greet the youngest bleary-eyed Barkley as he made his way to join his older brothers. A fourth cup appeared and soon Eugene was also holding a cup of the steaming brew. Still not a word was said. But silence reigned for a few moments until once again it was broken by the sounds of even quieter footfalls, even though there were two more people approaching. The four turned, each in his place, to smile at the newest and last of the arrivals. Victoria and Audra, dressed in riding skirts and tall boots so that the hems of their fancy dresses would not get wet in the morning dew, approached and accepted their own cups of the steaming brew from the now empty pot set outside the ring. Still not a word was verbally exchanged. The women were added to the line of people standing silently to meet the dawn. Two men on either side of the two women in the middle of the line, all standing close enough to each other that one touched the next one in line as they all faced East to await for another couple of minutes nature’s display.

Finally, Mother Nature was ready and Father Time declared it was time she was and the sun burst over the mountains in the East, lighting the sky with reds, yellows, oranges and golds. The sun’s rays shone upon the six Barkleys standing in a united line. Eventually the display ended and the newest Barkley broke the silence. “Well, boy howdy, wasn’t that somethin’ to see?” he enthused. “Another chance to start over, to do things the right way or maybe just differently than the way they had been done before. A chance to think about what’s important and what to be thankful for on this day of Thanksgiving.”

Victoria spoke when she was sure the blonde was finished. “Heath, how did you know to have six cups this morning?” She received a quizzical look from her newest son. “Oh, I’ve known about your watching the sunrise from this spot since your big brothers helped you escape while you were healing after the attack by the rawhiders. Yes, I followed you three that morning. I didn’t approve, but I knew your brothers would not let anything happen to you. In spite of the warm temperatures, I watched them bundle you up and build this fire ring. I didn’t interfere as you needed to start to take back some control of your life and you needed to reconnect with your brothers after they had been away. So I didn’t say anything. I stamped down the urge to force you back to bed and I allowed your brother’s to aid in the healing of your ‘soul’, if you will, after having to take lives to protect not only yourself but your sister, Silas, Allie Kay and I.”

“Mother, I didn’t know — well, not really — that I needed the six cups. I just knew I had five people that I was thankful for and wanted to make sure they knew that. If you all hadn’t a come out here, I was gonna make sure you knew how thankful I am that I have all of you. Mama taught me to always be prepared. She would say that somehow I called each of you here to share the dawn with me just by wishing you would come. I’m not sure that I really believed that, but you are all here so I’m not sure that I can do anything but believe it. Does that make any sense?” Victoria just nodded. “As for your knowing about our sneaking out and not doing anything about it, I don’t know what to say but thank you for giving me the freedom to reconnect and to heal my spirit with my big brothers’ help.”

Nick wasn’t quiet about his opinion. But then Nick was rarely quiet about anything. “That makes perfect sense to me. Lawyer man here and college boy rarely are up this early. Sister is usually still sleeping as well. Mother is always up early and she would know when her children left the house. I know that I woke this morning for an undefined reason and I was ‘pulled’, if you will, to join you. I had no idea until I saw all the cups that anyone else was coming. But when I saw six cups, I knew everyone would find their way here eventually. As for the revelation that we weren’t as sneaky as we thought, I’m not surprised; Mother has always had a sixth sense about her children.”

Eugene spoke up quietly after pondering his loudest brother’s words. “I woke this morning, and for some reason, I just knew I had to see the sunrise, that I had to come here and give thanks for all that I have. There was an urgency when I woke to come to this spot. Evidently, from the looks of the fire pit and what I’ve heard, it’s been here for a while. It wasn’t built this morning. I’ve always known this was the best spot in walking distance from the house to see the sunrise. When I felt the pull this morning to see the sun come up, this was where I came. I felt the family pull, but I didn’t realize that’s what I was feeling until now. Thank you, brother, for allowing me to share this special morning with you.”

Jarrod spoke up when he was sure Eugene was finished speaking. “I woke and lay in bed this morning, wondering why I was awake, what had woken me. Now I know it was the call of a kindred heart, wanting, no needing, to give thanks surrounded by the love of his family.” He looked at his newest brother as he spoke. He saw the color rise to the fair cheeks and saw the head bow in embarrassment as his brother attempted to hide his reaction from the rest of his family. Jarrod smiled when he saw the familiar reaction they all had come to recognize it. He continued. “Heath, the Barkleys have long known that when one member is troubled or injured, that the rest of the family will know and respond even over great distances. You have proven this morning that you too have that ‘family gift’. That you are able to call the family when needed has been proven before, but I think this is the first time that I’ve heard of that anyone has called the family not in distress but in love.” As he spoke, he approached Heath and laid a firm, loving and callused hand on his brother’s cheek. He used his hand to lift his brother’s chin, causing Heath’s eyes to meet his own as he finished speaking. “I love you, Brother Heath; I’m very thankful you found your way to us.” He gave his brother’s cheek a gentle pat as he released him.

Their sister approached Heath as Jarrod turned once more to face the dying flames. The family had unconsciously formed a circle around the ring. Audra didn’t speak; she simply wrapped her arms around the brother that she most resembled in appearance. She pressed her cheek to his shoulder and held him wrapped in her arms. After a moment of stunned silence, his arms came up to wrap around his sister’s waist. When his arms tightened around her, returning her hug, she lifted her head, their faces only inches apart their arms still surrounding the other. “Heath, from the moment you arrived, you’ve taken care of me. I’ve always wondered why I was the only one with blonde hair. I used to think it was because I was the only girl.” She smiled at the wondering expression on her brother’s face. “Now I know it has nothing to do with being a girl. It has to do with being a Barkley. Evidently all my other brothers take after mother in their coloring. You and I take after Father’s side of the family. Oh, Heath, I know you don’t like to be reminded you have anything in common with Father. Many of your mannerisms are from Father. Your coloring is from his side of the family, not from Father. Father was darker haired like Eugene, not as dark as Nick or Jarrod, but definitely darker than you and me. I’m also thankful you are here, because you are the only brother who doesn’t treat me like a porcelain doll. I love you, Heath.”

Heath again ducked his head. But since his sister was shorter than he, she could easily see his face. With a chagrinned smile, he instead lifted his face to the rays of the sun. Heath faced due east. The blonde blinked back tears as he once again gave joyous thanks for the blessings of family. When he was finished his brief, silent prayer, he offered one elbow to his sister, the other to his mother. “Shall we return to the house and warm up ladies?” he asked. He threw over his shoulder as they headed back to their family haven, “You boys best be putting out that fire and brining in the pot and cups. We have a celebration to get ready for. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, my family; I love you all.”


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