Monday, January 24, 2011


Ellen Ana Winthrop stood bare-footed on the back porch in her faded linen gown. She squinted and blew a long soft breath out over her first cup of coffee. The morning's first hint of sunlight was just making its way through the hickory trees and making the fog hanging low over the garden, glow. It seemed a day like any other day. Her left shoulder leaned lazily up against the cedar post, her right hip slung out to the side. A familiar posture that came from babies on the hip. But now, it was a hand-me-down Winchester rifle she cradled casually there. The chickens were just beginning to stir in their perches among the low slung limbs of the Chinese Elm that shaded the hen house. Her eyes scanned the undergrowth of lilacs and wild blackberry. The coyotes usually lurked there in the shadows, eyeing the chickens noisily flapping down to the ground in search of breakfast. She wouldn't kill them, but she would damn sure scare them away. Coyotes aren't mean. They just get hungry the way everything does. She fired a couple of shots off into the air and smirked at the sudden rustling in the bushes of wild things scattering. "You have to get up early if you want my chickens," she muttered. She tossed her long greying hair back over her shoulder and walked back into the cabin.

Ellen Ana was luckier than a lot of women. Many never lived to bear a child, or died in the process. Ellen Ana's babies were grown and gone. Two restless young men now somewhere in the distant West, or so they last said in a letter. Ellen Ana was lucky enough to take pride in the first peppering of grey wisps amidst her long, curling, and famously red locks. She stared at herself in the mirror as she tied her thick mop back with her favorite ribbon. She smiled at the wrinkles on her face. She pressed her face to the glass, and kissed herself. It wasn't out of vanity. It's just that there was no one else to do it.

The day was bound to unfold like all the others. Things that need doing seemed an endless circular list. She pulled the kettle off the fire and emptied it into the murky water in the galvanized tub on the floor. She removed her gown and dropped it into the tub. The shiver that overcame her felt good. She sat down in the chair and lowered her bare feet into the water. She reached for her coffee again as she lazily stomped her gown and stockings free of yesterday's grime. She could hear the distant honking of geese flying by. They were always going somewhere. If they weren't headed one direction, they were headed in the other. Like gypsies. Always on the move. She felt a tinge of jealousy. Everything that had kept her here so long, was long gone now. The boys were working on some distant railroad line. Her husband was buried out there on the hillside. She glanced wistfully out the window. Her eyes fixing on the old buckboard wagon. The old horse shuffling about in the pasture getting fat and lazy. In her mind she imagined hitching them up. Loading up a few chickens. A couple of boxes of favorite and necessary things.

"Am I going crazy?" she asked herself as she buttoned up her shirt. She glanced in the mirror. Her reflection was shaking it's head no. She slipped into her overalls. Her boots. She strolled out to the pasture with a leather halter and a bucket of grain. "You know what, Jitters? she said, stroking her horse's massive neck and shoulder. Running her fingers through his tangled mane. "I'm thinkin' you an' me, we need to shake the dust off. What do you think? You think you can still pull a wagon?"

Two days later, Ellen Ana Winthrop and Jitters headed off for who knows where? Some of the things she had loaded on the wagon, she sold a few days later when she pulled into the town of Bucksnort. She bought a new dress and some .22 longs for the Winchester. She settled in Kansas City for two years. Then she was off again. Jitters stayed behind with a blacksmith who promised to let him loaf the rest of his days. She traveled by stagecoach with a gentleman from Missouri. In Council Bluffs, Iowa, they boarded the first trans-continental train. They were married along the way, in Winnemucka, Nevada. He was a good man, but died of a snake bite while on a cattle drive. Ellen Ana lived to see her sons again, and was buried in southern California by her grand-children at the age of 79. Her Winchester was buried with her, along with her favorite ribbon. The simple inscription on her tombstone read, "Movin' On".

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