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Judith R. Parker
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I was leading my mule, Roscoe, into town to be shod, uncertain what I was going to do after, when I saw the wagons. I knew where they were headed --west. West to Oregon. They weren't the first to come through and I'd probably have paid them no mind, except for three things.
First, it was one of those fine early April days that starts the sap to running and just naturally makes a man's foot start to itch. Second, Pa and me had a fair-sized argument that morning and I was still feeling rankled. Then, of course, there was the girl.
Thus begins a journey that will change Cato Wahl's life forever.
I was leading my mule into town to be shod, uncertain what I was going to do after, when I saw the wagons. I knew where they were headed—west. West to Oregon. They weren’t the first to come through and I’d probably have paid them no mind, except for three things.
First, it was one of those fine early April days that starts the sap to running and just naturally makes a man’s foot start to itch. Second, Pa and me had a fair-sized argument that morning and I was still feeling rankled. Then, of course, there was the girl.
She sat on the back of the first wagon, her bare feet dangling. She had a right cute face under a mass of yeller hair and the smile she gave me set my innards to quivering and the blood rushing up my neck.
I watched those wagons disappear around the bend ahead and I felt a restlessness that made my bones ache like a fever. The farm, even the gently rolling southern Illinois country, seemed like a prison. Besides, I wanted to see those laughing blue eyes again.
I rounded the bend and trudged down the hill towards the town, ‘cept I don’t know that you could call it a town. Where the road widened, set McGonigle’s saloon, Josh Martin’s harness and gun shop and Gold’s Emporium, which was a fancy name for a general store.
A few people didn’t like Mr. Gold ‘cause he was one of those Jew folks but he’d always treated us fair and square. Pa whupped the tar out of me one time for repeating something Tom McGonigle had said about Mr. Gold. Then Ma read me a lecture. Truth to be told, I’d minded the lecture more than Pa’s birch rod. Ma had a way of making you feel mighty small. Besides, I liked Mr. Gold and I think he liked me. When I was a kid, he always slipped me a piece of rock candy when Pa wasn’t looking.
But getting back to our town, there wasn’t much more to it. Harvey Corfman had a feed store and livery stable across from Max Arbuckle’s blacksmith shop at the west end of town. There was the bank with Doc Mayhew’s place and Lawyer Riley’s office above. That’s all, except for half a dozen houses stretched south along the creek.
Just beyond Arbuckle’s and north of the bridge, Castor Creek made a big bend around a grove of sycamore and walnut trees where we had the Fourth of July picnic. Sometimes a preacher, up from the south, would hold a revival meeting there. The wagons were camped there and my heart jumped like bullfrog leaping into a pond.
When I saw those wagons, my feet just stopped. I might be standing there yet if that mule hadn’t got impatient and nipped my shoulder. The thoughts of seeing that little yeller-headed girl started me sweating.
I’d never had much time for girls nor they for me. Girls just naturally seemed to like a smooth talking feller and I never could seem to get my tongue around the kind of words girls like to hear. Besides, I never had the time for courting. When I wasn’t helping Pa on the farm, he had me hired out.
Still two month’s shy of my eighteenth birthday, I’d been doing a man’s work since the age of ten. I’d reached my full growth a couple of years before and at six-four, I topped Pa by a full two inches. Maybe that was why Pa had taken to hiring me out most of the time.
Fact is, Pa’s hiring me out was the cause of our argument that morning. T’warn’t that I minded the work ‘cause most of the time I’d enjoyed it and I’d learned a lot. When I was twelve Pa’d hired me out to a harness maker and I’d learned a lot about tanning hides and making all kinds of stuff out of leather. It was dirty, smelly, hard work, but interesting and I’d’ve stayed with it but for Mr. Porter’s being bitten by the traveling bug and moving on west.
Pa had then hired me out for a couple of years to Enoch Smalling. A mean, cantankerous old man but a master builder. From him I’d learned a love of working with wood as well as skill with a broadaxe and adz.
"Thank you for writing CATO WAHL. I'm so glad I read it. Seldom has a story pinned me to a chair as CATO did. You wrote an incredible chronicle of a young man and a young country's coming of age." Randy Rawls, author of the Ace Edwards series.
Book Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press
No. of Pages: 196
Paper Weight (lb): 8.6
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