I wandered out from my chores in the morning with never a by-your-leave to Mother. I was too mad to ask permission when permission never seemed to come my way. All I wanted was to ride out with the new hand and show him the eastern grazing lands he was to cover. But Papa said ‘no,’ even used my middle name for emphasis.
“No is what I said, Miss Josephine Parthenia, and no is what it will stay.”
“But Papa, it would save you time. ‘Sides, you know I can show him where to find the lean-to, same as anybody.”
* * *
Papa turned his back on me and commenced talking to the new man. He was young with brilliant black eyes and dark hair that matched the color of his charcoal skin. His full lips and crinkly hair cried out for my touch. I felt a slight rumble move through my innards and didn’t know what to make of it. With my offer rejected, I stalked away from the ranch house and found my way to Manuela’s Meadow.
Photo by Stompro Photo Design 2010
At fourteen, I was a long and strong one, able to do many of the arduous chores found out on the range. I could throw a calf, handle the branding iron, pull a fence line well enough for a girl. I could mend harness, ride all day and holler up a storm after strays.
Mother and Manuela took me in hand from time to time, forcing me to learn my way around the kitchen, vegetable garden and Mother’s hand-turned sewing machine. I could feed twenty, sew up shirts and dresses, milk the dairy cow, round up the chickens and select the best chicken for dinner while keeping the windows glistening. I knew my way about the ranch in all its parts better than anyone, save my parents. I bucked at the restraints they occasionally wrapped me in when all I wanted was to take charge of something, of anything.
Stretched out under a cottonwood in a nest of sweet-smelling grasses, I was chewing over my father’s refusal when Manuela and the girls showed up. Manuela approached the tree, sat down with her back to me, the better to track the girls.
“Now, hija, you going to stay hid here all day?” Manuela asked the air, her English now better than my Spanish. She was braiding long strands of honeysuckle together, intent on saving them for winter fever tea. It took me a while, but I did answer her.
“Papa treats me like some little baby. He just won’t give me any real responsibility. Bet if’n I was a boy, he’d of let me take that new hand out.”
“Si, hija, si. You speak wisdom now.”
“What do you mean?” I was a bit peeved.
“You think your Papa don’t see the moon eyes you make at that Lincoln? And him, a Buffalo Soldier, fresh out of the army. Little white señorita means big trouble for that boy. You stay away from him.”
I twisted to sit up and drew closer to Manuela’s back. “I don’t see how takin’ him out east woulda made for trouble.”
“Hija, your Papa don’t go putting the bull in among the cows ‘less he’s wanting calves. Same way he’s not going to go putting his daughter in among the cowpokes.”
“Ah, Manuela, I ain’t going to make a baby with some cowpoke.” I had that funny feeling again. “Was Francisco the first man to kiss you?”
“There’s kissin’ and there’s kissin’. Then, there’s kissin’ and tellin’. I ain’t tellin’. You just watch out for yourself.” Manuela was on her feet, basket in hand, moving toward her daughters. “Hijas,” she called. “Vamos a casa.”
I let out a big sigh. I didn’t understand my feelings any better than before.
I saw Lincoln Brisco two more times until, after fall roundup, he left for Nevada, to try for a homestead. Each time I saw him, he was polite, soft spoken and with some other grownup between us. I took to dreamin’ about him, making up poems I never dared show and found a way to comfort myself when the stirrings in my body made me restless with the itch.