Category: The Big Valley
Word Count: 1800
Heath squinted into the bright August sun as a majestic Bald Eagle soared overhead, gracefully gliding in gentle soft swoops to and fro across the horizon. Reflecting on its beauty, Heath stood transfixed, soaking up the beauty of one of God’s creations.
Tearing his gaze away from the magnificent bird who flew free, the blond cowboy set his sights once again to the work at hand. Setting the next post in place, Heath picked up the heavy sledge and with a mighty swing, drove the post hard into the ground.
Sweat glistened off of his bare back, arms, face and chest as the hot summer sun bronzed Heath’s body to a warm golden brown. He untied his kerchief from around his neck and mopped it across his sweat dampened face and then ran it around to the back of his neck. Resting his large weather beaten and calloused hands on the fence post, Heath allowed a sigh to escape from his lips as he was once again drawn to the land that was to be his inheritance.
The eagle made yet another pass as it sliced through the sky. Heath recalled many years ago when he was but just a small boy. How he would dream of being a bird. A strong bird with mighty wings that would fly and take him and his mama away from the hateful people of Strawberry. Ignorant people in a dying town who carried black stones in place of hearts.
His mama was gone now. He couldn’t take her from that place even in death. She had died in a town where there was no goodness and was buried in a potter’s field in a part of town where good and decent people didn’t tread. Although she resided in that ugly town where she was treated as mere trash, she was loved by her family. She was loved by her boy Heath and her good friends Rachel and Hannah. Those women, though not real relation, were tried and true friends who would do and did anything for their beloved Leah. They were the ones who stuck by her through the good times and the worst of times. They were her family. That’s what family did. They stuck together.
Heath bowed his head as an unexpected tear fell and plopped onto his hand. When, oh when would he be able to think about her without his chest tightening so hard it hurt? When would he be able to think about her and remember the good times?
The emotions running rampant within him mysteriously drained Heath of his physical strength. After fiddling non-productively with the fencing wire for a time, Heath finally slumped in defeat. It was still morning and yet he felt like he’d worked straight through a twenty four hour day. It would not be a day to write up in the books for record breaking fence mending, that’s for sure.
Maybe just a moment to get his thoughts back together would revive him. Walking with heavy heart to where Charger was tied, he removed his saddlebag and rummaged around not quite knowing what he was looking for. His fingers curled around some jerky. Retrieving his canteen from around his saddle horn, Heath headed off towards one of the many oaks that dotted the landscape. Settling himself on the ground under the massive tree’s boughs, Heath Thomson Barkley pondered his past as he nibbled on some jerky, chasing it down with water from his canteen. Before he knew it, his eyes grew heavy and his chin fell to rest on his chest.
“Heath! Heath! Wake up son. They need you at the mine. Wake up, Heath.”
“No mama. Wanna sleep. Don’t wanna go to the mine. I can’t breathe when I’m in there.”
“Oh honey,” Leah wrapped her arms around her precious little boy. She choked back her true emotions and tried to put on a brave voice. “It won’t be so bad Heath. Today’s Saturday and just think, you’ll have all day tomorrow to play or maybe just rest. Come on baby. Just today and tomorrow is yours to do whatever you wish.” Taking her boy into her arms again, Leah hugged him tight and tousled his blond locks. “I got some fresh eggs from Mrs. Tucker for some ironing I did yesterday. You get washed up now and I’ll scramble up some for us with a little potato fried in too. How’ll that be?”
Heath balled his fists and rubbed them in his eyes. “Yes ma’am,” he said with a hollow voice and stood up to get dressed for his day’s work.
Turning her back to her boy, Leah brought her hand to her mouth as tears sprang to her eyes. “Why, oh Lord?” She whispered. “Why my little boy. He’s only a little boy. Only seven years old. Why must he suffer so for the sin of his mama?”
Heath was small for his age and wiry. To make ends meet, the young boy was forced to help out his poor mama by working. At first, it was little jobs at the livery when he was just five years old. Because of his quickness and maturity beyond his years, his uncle Matt laid into his sister that the boy would be useful to the mine. The mine that at one time supported the whole town of Strawberry. A mine known then for its output of the finest silver. The boy would be useful, he had urged and later threatened. He would be used as a charge setter. With his fast skinny legs, he would accomplish the task nicely. More so than an adult three times his age. He would be not only useful, but he would help repay a debt that she, Leah Thomson, had racked up. A debt of having a child without the benefits of a husband. She would pay her debt with her child. With her only son.
Like a blink of an eye, he was there. He was in that dark hole of the mine. So hard to breathe. Why couldn’t he catch his breath? “It’s time boy!” The voices were unyielding. “Set the charge! Run like the wind! It’s gonna blow! Hurry! Hurry!” Need to run. Run faster! Can’t catch my breath. (cough) Faster! Run! Sprout wings! Take her away from this. Take us away. My mama and me. I can’t run! I can’t run fast enough to fly. Can’t breathe (cough cough). Falling! Falling!
How can this be? Time passes so fast. I’m, where am I? No!!! Can’t be there. Please! So hungry. Why won’t they feed us? Treat us worse than animals and won’t give us anything to keep our strength up. My back hurts so much. Bleeding. Whip. Filth. Disease. No one should have to live in these conditions. I only tried to give him some of my water. The boy was dying. Punished. Punished for being a human being. They want us to be animals. Punishment is swift for reaching out. Hurt so bad. Mama. Can’t stand being in these putrid four walls. Please let me fly away. Can’t go on much longer like this. Escape. Escape and fly away.
“I’ve come back to you, Mama. I promised I would and now I’m here. I heard you were sick, Mama. I’m here. Can’t we get a doctor? Someone’s got to help you. Uncle Matt! Aunt Martha! Can’t you see? She’s dyin’. You only laugh in our faces. Get away from us. Go away! Go away! Mama, I’m here. I love you Mama. We will fly away, Mama. We will fly away from this place. You won’t be sick anymore. I’ve brought your Bible like you asked Mama. What’s that? What are you trying to say? The back? Turn to the back? Here. What’s this? A clipping. What is that you’re saying? You’re only whispering. I know it’s hard to talk. Oh Mama, please. What’s that you say? The clipping. Tom Barkley. Who is he? He’s, he’s, he’s who? My father? What are you saying? MAMA! Don’t leave me like this! Gotta run! Fly! Fly away like an eagle. Must fly away! Hurt. My heart hurts so bad. Mama.”
“Heath! Heath! My son. You are safe now. You have a family who loves you. Trust in them. They will be there for you. You have my permission, Heath to let go. Let go of the bitterness and remember the sweet times. The good times. That’s a boy. You’re safe Heath. You’re home. Let them love you as you will learn to love them. Your family Heath. Let them be your family. No need to fly away. You have landed, Heath. You have no need for wings, for you are in the love of your family. I love you, my son. I will always love you. Please allow your love to broaden out to them. They are your brothers and a sister too you have. And the lady, she will care for you and you must let her be Mother to you. Do not be afraid. You have not abandoned me. You will always be there for me as I will always be there for you in your heart. No need for flight, Heath. No need for flight.”
“Mama. Mama. I’m home. No need for flight. I’m home.” The words came from Heath’s mouth softly as the sight of his mama faded out of his mind.
“Heath! Whatcha doin’ boy? Wake up! We’ve got fences to mend and here you are sleepin’ the day away,” Nick hollered as he shook his blond brother out of his slumber.
“Huh? Yeah. Sorry Nick. Just stopped to rest a spell. Must’ve fallen asleep.
“You all right?” Nick asked with a worried furrowed brow.
“Yeah. Just fine Nick. Just fine. You want for me to start with this section of fence or ya want me to go on down the line?”
“Little brother, why don’t we both start right here and get this done together. Let’s stick together and the work will be light, whaddya say?”
“I’d like that Nick. I’d like that very much, big brother.”
The eagle angled and dipped in the sky as it passed over sending its shadow across the blond cowboy’s face. Looking to the sky, Heath smiled and breathed a word of thanks. “Thank you, Lord. I have a family and I won’t try to fly away again.” Placing his hand to his heart, he said softly, “Mama, I will always love you. You will always be in my heart. You were so good, Mama. So beautiful. That’s what I will always remember. It’s time to remember the good times, for there were many. You made living special to me, Mama. I will love you always.”